Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Tucson Drummers: The Amazing....JOHNNY RAY!!

Iron Butterfly! Stinky Felix! 
Romeo! The Onlys! 
The Flesheaters! Hillybilly Prophet!
Johnny Ray today, drummer for Hillbilly Prophet!

SLIT:  What bands have you been in? What's the biggest/most "bigtime" band you've been in? Who do you drum for now?

JR: WOW !!!!  That a pretty big question.... Ill do my best to remember all of them and forgive me if I leave anyone out.  I guess the best way is to start is with my 1st band, That was a band from New Mexico called "Red Rock" . I come from an entertainment family ( 3 drummers, 1 bass/pedal steel) 4 boys and a VERY loud house. One band after the other and some over lapping.

I'm the youngest and when my next oldest brother went to fight  the Viet Nam war he left me not only his drums, but his BAND too. It was a pretty good band and we wanted to get out of town and move to the big city ( Tucson).  We moved to Tucson in the early 70's and did OK for a while and I guess I got some local recognition from backing up Chuck Berry to opening up for Fleetwood Mac and Savoy Brown.

After that somehow I ended up in the biggest band in Tucson at the time Stinky Felix  playing for thousands of fans at the Reid Park aka Randolph Park band shell, clubs all over town, opening for "Paul Butterfield blues band" at the Community center and playing our big west cost shows at the "Whiskey A-GoGo" in Hollywood opening for Sylvester and the HOT band , after that was a series of garage bands, none very memorable. I used to hang out at "Choo Choos' a lot and met up with a band called "Lip Service"/"City Kids" , I was with them for what seemed like an eternity and traveled all over the Southwest and Midwest. Some great guys in that band, I had a lot of fun with them.

Stinky Felix play Palo Verde Highschool

After that band ended I worked with a few other bands in Tucson and Denver,  Slayer (not the one your thinking),  Romeo,  Boomslang, Ray, Fortner & Stanfield band.

I was with "The Next" w/ Ace Baker & Chris Gebbia", "Prophet" and soon after that did an album with the Davis brothers"Ashbury" Endless Skies album, which has been a constant seller and on top of a lot "best" lists for the last 25 years in more than 10 countries in Europe, I played with the "BenDover band", I also played in a ton of country bands too, "David Dollar band", "Gary Alenn" and some others I cant remember...sorry!!

After that I was with The ONLYS in Tucson for a few years with Jack Martinez and Jeb Lipson, where we produced a couple of videos that played local music video shows and was a good promotional tool for the band, taking us to Los Angeles and getting a small deal with A&M records.

Johnny Ray (left) and The Onlys!
I need to throw out an honorable mention to a bunch of TERRIFIC guys, "the Wumblies" and a dear departed friend Randy Castile, I was the guy who stepped in for Randy at The Night Train when he had some personal issues to take care of in Denver, Those guys welcomed me in and gave me a BIG shot in the arm, I love them all and of course miss Randy C. every day like so many people who new him.

That leads me to your question about biggest/bigtime bands , The Wumblies, and since I moved to L.A. I have been lucky enough to work with some of my personal faves like "The Iron Butterfly", The "Blues Image" both of which had " Michael Pinera" , I was his go-to guy for years, Michael is the guy who wrote"Ride Capt. Ride" and is one of the guitar players that replaced "Eric Braun" in the Butterfly and penned " Butterfly Blue" an awesome tune he is also the 1st to use a "Talk box" in a song, NOT  Peter Framton....

I was also in a band proclaimed to be one of the 1st PUNK bands of L.A. during the 80's " the Flesheaters" , toured and played on thier last album "Ashes of Time" with the poet of that band "Chris D.",

I was with a band called "the Monets" that had a deal with "I.R.S." records for a while. Ive done some work with "the Earl Slick band" and "Ian Hunter" both with Earl Slick prior to his time with John Lennon on The "Double Fantasy" album. After that guys I took a few years off, (yes...I know!!!! ) , But I have been back in action for the last 2 years with MORE energy than I have had in years,( NO STOPPING ME NOW). for the last year and a half I have been working with former Tucsonan, Mark Smythe in his " Hillbilly Prophet" band, and now I'm working on a REUNION album and tour of Europe with my all time favorite song writing duo, Rob & Randy Davis of "Ashbury". Its gonna be AWESOME !!!

SLIT:  Can you please elaborate on your experience with Iron Butterfly? How long were you with the band? How long did it take you to learn the solo?

JR: I met Michael Pinera through a mutual friend and former Butterfly, Bob Hofman. Michael joined the band on the " Metamorphosis" album along with another awesome guitar player"Rhino", I think one of their best records.  I was with them for about 5 years and did alot of shows in and around California. The biggest was probably " Concerts for the Homeless Heros" benefits, at that time there were alot of Viet Nam vets  that JUST needed some help. So we tried to raise some money for them, the shows included members of ther Doobie Bros, Michael Macdonald, Glen Fry and other members of the Eagles, and as I mentioned Iron Butterfly, The Blues image. It was such a heart warming feeling seeing all the men in wheelchairs and crutches rocking and singing along to the songs they heard  while flying over Viet Nam and walking through the jungle to fight for the freedom we all enjoy today.

Howie.... as far as the solo goes , it was something most drummers tried to learn back then, so I knew most of it when I got the opportunity to play in the band, I guess that gave me a little edge on it, I think I had it down, or at least enough to recognize the key sections of it. Its a very solid structured solo, almost like a part of the musical piece. The song wouldn't be the same without it....

SLIT:  How did you know you wanted to be a drummer? How did you get started?

JR:  Like so many others, When I saw the Beatles play on the Ed Sullivan show, I new I wanted to play drums. And watching my brothers play inspired me too. It was my next oldest brother that got me going, he  new I was sneaking around and playing his drums when he was out, so when he went in the Army he said: "you have 8 weeks till I get back from basic training, if I think you have it, you can keep my drums" that was my 1st audition, I think I passed!!!

SLIT:  What were your first drums like?

JR: They were a Blue marine pearl " Ludwig" four piece with a " Black Beauty " snare. GOD... I loved that snare and kick myself everyday for letting it go.... all you drummers out there know what it would be worth now!!!

SLIT:  Are you self taught? How did you practice?

JR: Yes, self taught, I really never got any instruction from anyone, not even my brothers. I just developed a way of listening VERY carefully and seeing how things are played in my mind, I still use that technique today for a lot of work I do, I find that being "pre-cognitive" and reading body language helps in doing a show backing an artist with very little rehearsal . I visualize the patterns in my head and then sit down and go through it till I have it. And as far the sound goes there a wide variety of tuning things you can do to reproduce anyone's sound. In the beginning I used to play along with records to learn what I needed from the popular music at the time. My neighbors hated me, but eventually I would get a crowd built up outside my window... that was cool!!!

SLIT:  How often do you tune your drums? Do you have a special technique for tuning drums?

JR: I tune them every time I sit down, just to make sure everything is where its supposed to be. No real special tuning technique, Its just important to have the drum "in tune with its self" you cant force a drum to do what its not meant to do, each drum shell has its own pitch and that's where you need to start, tuning the lugs across from each other and making sure they match. And the bottom head a little higher or lower than the top to bring out the resonant tone you are looking for...

SLIT:  Have you ever toured with a band? If so, describe what it's like

JR: I toured with "the Flesheaters" and a lot of bar bands. I love the road, its like being on vacation and getting paid for it....

SLIT:  Would you ever wear face makeup in a band?

JR: Not if I can help it... there was a time when I worked with a Beatles tribute band and wore a wig, but I couldn't deal with that. The only other time was in Stinky Felix, we used to wear make up and glitter and stuff....what can I say, it was during the GLAM band times.... All I do now is a little eye liner sometimes, I'm getting older and it looks kinda ridicules to do that shit now.

SLIT: Do you prefer to play slow songs or fast songs?

JR: I am and always will be an "accompanist", that's my job as a drummer. So I will play whatever I am supposed to play, but I must say I prefer to play slower or medium tempo music, There is more room for feelings and dynamics. The faster you play the harder it is to maintain that, that's when you get into all this stuff to many of today's young players are doing, playing everything they know in ONE song, after that whats left???  I prefer to be a "song player", meaning.... Knowing when NOT to play is as important as playing the groove.

SLIT:  How do you hold your sticks?

JR: Matched grip...I'm most comfortable that way, but Id love to learn traditional grip someday, Hey Marks!!!! can you throw me a few tips???

SLIT:  Who are your fave drummers? Any particular drum lick that you've gotten from another drummer, which you've incorporated into your repetoire?

JR: John Bonham, Ringo Starr, Keith Moon, Simone Phillips, Clive Bunker. I hope that I have picked up a little from all of them in my style of playing, But I guess I have been able to use mostly foot work techniques  from the great John Bonham, Ive been told I play a lot like him...

SLIT:  What's your position on drum solos? Tommy Ramone or Stewart Copeland? Charlie Watts or Ringo Starr?

JR: I'm really not into that whole stick twirling and juggling act thing, I'm a groove man, nothing against the guys that do it, its just not my thing. I did have to do the drum solo in "Ina goda da vida" when I was with the Iron Butterfly, that was fun and challenging at the same time... but I try to avoid those thing, Its not my job to try to steal the show. I'm here to enhance the show and work as a team, not a soloist!!!

I gotta go with Stewart and Ringo....

SLIT: How do you feel about drum machines? How about syn-drums?

JR: Drum machines have earned a place in today's music, you just need to keep in mind that it is a tool and not a replacement for what a human can and ALWAYS will do !!! The same applies to syn-drums. They all have a time and a place when they can be useful to create the BEST musical experience that you can provide for the audience....

SLIT: Do you play any other instruments? Would you play a gig on a cardboard box?

JR: I don't play anything else, Ive devoted my life to playing drums and percussion. A "cardboard box" huh!!!  Ive played on some drums that sounded like that. Does that count???

SLIT: Have you ever drummed to music from other countries or cultures?

JR:  would love the opportunity to play and learn drumming techniques from other countries and cultures, Ive heard some stuff from Africa and South America that blows me away. I think it would be an awesome experience to do that, drummers from there have to learn on whatever is available and that alone gives them a different take on rhythm techniques in general.

Thanks Howard and the "Slit Blog" for including me in on the "Tucson drummers" series, Its been an honor and I hope I didn't get to wordy with my answers, its been a challenge trying to remember ALL that I have done over the last 40+ years. I'm not done yet folks. I try to live my life by the great comedian George Burns words.... " I cant die yet !!! I'm BOOKED..." so, Ill see all you Tucsonans soon, I miss ya!!!
Peace and Love,
Johnny Ray

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