Brian Ray

Paul McCartney's "other" guitar player
by Tina Hall
August 2010

Brian Ray & Charlie

Brian Ray & Charlie

Brian Ray is best known as the guitarist for Paul McCartney. His musical career was heavily influenced by his elder sister Jean of the duo Jim and Jean. Brian has worked alongside many great artists including, Etta James, Keith Richards, Santana, Bonnie Raitt, Joe Cocker, Bo Didley, and John Lee Hooker. He was asked to join Paul McCartney who was looking for someone that could easily switch between bass and guitar in 2002. He released his first solo album, “Mondo Magneto” on his label Whooray Records in 2006. His latest solo album, “This Way Up” is out now.

Maximum Ink: You list your sister Jean as one of the most influential and important person early on in your life. What was it like to have her offering support at such an early age?
Brian Ray: As a kid at age 3-4 my sister Jean was 18, a senior in high school and she was a huge fan of Elvis, Everly Bros, Little Richard and Rick Nelson. I remember her looking at their pictures while listening to this emerging music… this new Rock and Roll music. As I grew up she would take me to concerts in town, further sparking my interest. When I showed interest in playing guitar Jean invited me to play with her onstage.At age 15 I was sitting in with famous players and getting support from them. A year later I was doing gigs with her at LA’s best known venues, so I felt as if I belonged onstage. I felt like I belonged in the middle of the music. If not for Jean, I might be a fireman.. I owe my success with Paul to her and to Etta James.

MI: Who were some of your other influences?
BR: Early R&R and R&B and pirate radio out of Tijuana, Mexico playing the original black music of America, folk music [Jean] and California surf and hot rod music, outer space instrumentals of the early 60’s and the British invasion, i.e. Beatles,Stones, Kinks, Who, Animals.. British blues and American blues guitarists like BB and Albert King, Peter Green, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page.

MI: What was it like to become a serious songwriter at 13?
BR: I wasn’t very serious at 13, hahaha! I was taking known songs and rewriting them to suit me and my vague emerging political views, during the Vietnam War. My first real original songs were written at age 15-16. First song titles were “Officer” and “You Gave Me The Power”.. I had my eyes on the girls and the law and, you see..

MI: You can play both bass and guitar? Which do you prefer most and why?
BR: I am a guitar player who plays bass. Piano was my first instrument, followed by guitar, then drums and finally bass. I used to play bass on demo
recordings but never live until I ‘woodshedded’ [practiced really hard] for Paul McCartney’s upcoming tour in 2002 after getting the opportunity of a lifetime to play with him at the Super Bowl in New Orleans, Feb 2002.

MI: Do you like to work as solo artist or a sessions artist more, or do you have a preference?
BR: One of my favorite things to do is to sit back in the studio and craft guitar, bass or keyboard parts on a recording, as I’ve recently done with Kelly Clarkson, Chris Cornell, Adam Lambert and Shakira but there is nothing like writing, arranging and producing a song of your own with friends. This is the ultimate in studio satisfaction because you created the song which you are bringing to life in a recording, often all in one day! So, there it is coming out of the speakers, all yours.. it never existed before that day and it will last forever..It’s a very satisfying process. When you get it just right, it is real bliss of the highest order. All the elements are there, just as you hear them in your head, each playing a role to support the song and the lyric you wrote.

MI: It is reported that when you asked Etta James to sing on your album, that she said “I’d do anything for Brian”. What is it like to be friends with such a legendary songstress?
BR: I am truly blessed.. Her singing on my song, “Soft Machine” makes me feel so happy.I often say that she’s like a second mom to me.. For many years, when I was younger I was like so many young adults going out to find my identity and she provided a brand new experience, culturally, socially and musically for me.I got to enter a new world because of her.. she was smart, fun and loving to me and always lookin’ out for me when we were on tour. We helped each other through some tricky situations. I love her very much and owe much of my musicality and success to her and the 14 years we played together. She remains very dear to me to this day.

MI: What was it like to work with Smokey Robinson on “One Heartbeat”? Did you think at the time it would be as successful as it has been?
BR: I had a good feeling about that song. I knew the producers of his upcoming album and thought I would take a shot at writing him a song. When the producers discouraged me, saying “he’s got lots of songs, he’s the best writer on earth” [i.e. ‘don’t bother’] I was sad.. My partner at the time, Steve LeGassick simply said, “let’s write it anyway” and we did.. Smokey is one of the best writers EVER..Even Dylan calls him one of the greatest poets of our time. So to have him record MY song and use the title as his album title, then release it as a single was very satisfying. I’m honored especially since he was one of the artists the Beatles used to ‘cover’ in the early days.

MI: It says on your website you used to sleep with your 1968 Goldtop Les Paul and would dream of doing what you are now. Did you really? What is it like to get the chance to do what you’ve dreamed of since childhood?
BR: I have to pinch myself all the time. It is just surreal to be where I have arrived..every once in awhile, it all gets very real and I see it, the progression and I think, “my GOD, it worked!”.. and it’s a good thing because I never learned how to put out fires very well! I had a sense that I was meant to be somewhere with tall talent all around me but this is just crazy..

MI: What are some of your hobbies?
BR: I like to surf, ride bicycles, play with Charlie my dog, hike and help recovering drug addicts and alcoholics to get better. I meditate 2x per day and that has really changed my spirit.

MI: As a child did it ever cross your mind you might someday be playing alongside Paul McCartney?
BR: I use to have a recurring dream that I was playing with the Stones!! so funny..this dream came true with Paul is the one thing that would trump that dream.. it’s truly a dream come true to play with the best singer/songwriters of our generation in a fantastic vital band of great musicians.. He’s SO good, it’s impossible to give him back all he’s done for me, musically.

MI: What is the most important thing you have learned from your career so far?
BR: Just say yes to everything, until it becomes impossible to do it all.. You never know who you are meant to meet at that audition or club gig. Don’t ever give up on your daydreams.

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Brian Ray
CD: This Way Up Record Label: Whooray Records
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