The Rick Ray Band:
Rocking From Past To Future In ATemporary World
In jazz, there is a stalwart tradition of artists rooting their music in history and practicing their craft to pursue excellence. Like artisans the world over, they embrace or have knowledge of all aspects of jazz and, thus, keep the music alive and growing, no matter the commercial climate of the music culture and against all odds. In rock music, however, tradition gives way to the veneer of the new, i.e., fresh faced youth posing to an inspiration-less, warmed-over caricature of a past style. Few take rock seriously enough to explore it thoroughly and bring more than one overcooked dish to the table, like "a metal" or "post punk."
Guitarist Rick Ray and his band are the rare exception: they are masters of rock who work with all its elements. Their new CD, Temporary World, is a delicious stew of rock's various flavors. Pop, rock and roll, psychedelic, progressive, hard rocks, and even smatterings of glam rock, come across in the songs.
When one looks at the pictures of Mr. Ray and his band mates - the late Chuck Abraham on vocals (whose socially conscious and life-reflective lyrics and melodies shine through), Frank Pellino on guitar and keyboards, Jack Ambrose on bass, Rick Shultz on reeds and Sam Glorioso on drums - it becomes evident that these high energy rockers are grizzled veterans who have paid their dues in the woodshed, on the stage and on the road. Big time. That is why they have the chops, cohesion and group telepathy needed to drive their musical ATV over all of rock's terrain.
Not surprisingly, Rick Ray started young, back when youth was synonymous with revolutionary, fresh, and special
What is the earliest memory you have of noticing music?
[Rick Ray] Hearing Elvis Presley when I was about 1 1/2 years old. I was dancing around to "All Shook Up" and cracked my head open on the stereo and had to go to the hospital for stitches. I decided that I was going to play music in 1964, because of the Beatles on Ed Sullivan Show. I started playing the piano because it was available, and I did not get a guitar until 1966 when I was six going on seven.
With those two culture-altering musical giants a part of his earliest life experience, he is truly a child of the sixties. The Beatles were his first love, as they were for a whole generation of kids everywhere. Their exploratory albums, like those done by Jimi Hendrix, the Doors and Pink Floyd, influenced young Rick to seek other music and go further in pursuit of creating his own unique music.
"As time went on," he said recently, "Captain Beyond, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Robin Trower, Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, Yes, Genesis (w/Gabriel), I Don't Care, Blue Oyster Cult ('72 to '75), Glass Harp, Return to Forever, Ted Nugent & The Amboy Dukes, King Crimson ("69 to '75), Damnation of Adam Blessing, Frank Zappa, Brian Auger's Oblivion Express, Mahogany Rush and Budgie all influenced my guitar work and my writing."
Growing up he received a full musical education. Trumpet lessons taught him how to read music and gave him an appreciation of melody that comes across on all the cuts. His brother, Emmett, taught him how to play guitar, which although he sings and plays keyboards, is his musical voice. The study of music theory helped him blend what he discovered by playing these instruments and his various influences.
This is evident on the two instrumental cuts, each a guitar tour de force but not in the typical "Star Spangled Banner/Led Zeppelin Live" way of over-the-top noise. "Modified Universe" find him playing tasteful Spanish-flavored jazz phrases over an easy going drum back beat, fleshed out by strolling bass lines and Mr. Shultz electric clarinet. "Passion of Time" is an acoustic, guitar-based ballad, that features Mr. Ray on multiple guitars and subtle keyboard shadings. While he has prodigious technique that shines through on these cuts, he also shows the taste and restraint that are the marks of master. There are no "Chops Mahoney" masturbatory musical displays here. Every breath taking guitar run is part of a statement that is soulful and musical in the best sense of the word.
This same excellence is found in his band. The sound is cohesive with each musician putting their skills in service of the songs, which are written collectively. The CD starts with "Until the End", a prog rock song that features Mr. Ray's guitar and the virtuoso singing of Mr. Abraham, who reminds one of David Bowie, but with more raw power. The song sails through various changes with each part nicely orchestrated.
"Rumor Clinic" starts with some psychedelic tape and feedback noise, and kicks into a hard rock song that rails against politicians' lies: "The Rumor Clinic is a popular place to learn the lies to fool the human race . . . / Lies bring us to the theater of war / they roll the dice on the killing floor / Lies bring us to the funeral of friends / they roll the dice until the end." This song features the chunka chunka hard rock riffs that underpin several songs on the album.
But unlike many bands that are a one-trick pony, this band adds some differences, some nuances to keep each piece fresh and unique. "Change Stays the Same" starts with the band playing in unison with driving guitar riff, and an electric sax solo by Mr. Schultz, whose reed work colors all the track. Chuck Abraham's vocals come in and are echoed by the guitars. The song then shifts gears to the jazzier side of fusion with Soft Machine-style break of mellow but strident bass and gently swinging drums which underpin a dueling electric saxophone and blistering guitar.
Describe your band. What is the background of the core members?
[Rick Ray] The band is a five or six piece psychedelic, progressive, hard rock fusion ensemble. Rick Schultz, a long time partner in music, plays Sax and Clarinet. He's also with the Euclid, Ohio Symphony Orchestra and the Medina Symphony Orchestra. Bassist Jack Ambose was with me in the band Riot Act throughout the '90s. Sam P. J. Glorioso, our drummer, was like finding treasure; he's a genius with his rhythms and ability. Frank Pellino, on guitar and keys, is not just one of the all-time greats, he is a virtuoso. He used to be in I Don't Care, a progressive rock band that released the album Ask Anyone on Buddha Records back in the '70s.
I saw them open for Frank Zappa in '77 and they floored me. That was probably the best performance I've ever seen. Alex Abraham is stepping in on vocals to replace his brother, Chuck, who sadly passed away August 31, 2005, (nine days after the release of Temporary World). The Rick Ray Band, to me, is a magnet for creative musicians. Musicians who hear it want to be in it. There is quite a lot of freedom in this band.
You've been playing rock and roll for years. What is it about music that drives you to continue?
[Rick Ray] I've always said the guitar is my sanity keeper. God gave me the ability to play, there's no doubt about that. The drive to keep playing is the enjoyment of creativity. The ability to make people's hair stand up. Including my own.
You've released 28 records in six years. How do you distribute and publicize your music?
[Rick Ray] The distribution is through the mail from Neurosis Records, 4020 Logans Way, Perry, OH, 44081 USA, Through the Rocker over in England and through CDBaby. Also through various small record stores all over.
Is Neurosis records your label?
[Rick Ray] Yes, Neurosis was started by me in 1981 as a means of releasing vinyl records of my band at the time, Neurotic. Neurosis released cassette albums also, but then entered the digital realm in 1999. Once I became my own manufacturer it made life a bit easier, although for the newest album I went outside of Neurosis for the manufacturing. It was an affordable luxury and we didn't really have the time to do all the manufacturing ourselves. Rick Schultz (reeds) has become a very big part of Neurosis Records, also.
"Besides all of my projects - solo records, band records, rereleases of my older bands, Neurotic and Riot Act - we've also released CDs by the Night Owls, a Cleveland band that plays 1930s jazz. pArAdOx OnE out of Scotland, this is a one man (Phil Jackson) project that's into the spacey end of progressive rock. Flight 09 is a progressive rock band out of Uzbekistan, very cool stuff."
The Rick Ray Band has collected the aural history of rock and made it their own, organically and from their experience, not from reading vintage issues of Creem, but by absorbing it all and gettin' busy the way music masters have always done. Pick up on Temporary World now. This is the real rock school in one killer record.