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Producer extraordinaire, David Kahne called me in early 2002 after Abe Jr. recommended me to play with Paul for the pre-game show at the 2002 Super Bowl. As we were all saying goodnight that evening at our hotel in New Orleans after that first brief audition / performance, Paul turned to me and said, ‘Welcome aboard, Brian!’ And I just couldn’t believe it. I turned to Abe who was standing next to me and asked, ‘Did he just say what I think he said?’ And Abe said, ‘Yeah, dude!’ We’ve been together for over 16 years and there’s no sign of slowing down.Brian Ray, from Freshen Up tour book, 2018
Brian Thomas Ray (born January 4, 1955) is an American session musician, guitarist, bassist, singer–songwriter and musical director. He is best known for his work as lead, rhythm, and bass guitarist with Paul McCartney, though he has worked with an extensive list of artists in addition to his own solo career.
Brian Ray grew up in Southern California. His first musical performances were in front of his peers – at show and tell – setting his own lyrics to the tune of old folk songs.
By the age of nine, he began playing the guitar. His elder sister Jean (of folk duo Jim and Jean) spurred his interest in rock music through her record collection. Jean invited Brian to play at the LA Troubadour when he was 15 years old. She was “probably the most important and influential person” in Ray’s early life.
In 1973, shortly after graduating from high school, Ray began his musical career as part of Bobby Pickett and the Crypt Kicker Five, playing the “Monster Mash” at a fundraising benefit hosted by and for Phil Kaufman. Kaufman took Ray in and would later introduce him to singer Etta James at a rehearsal for the world-famous Troubadour, just as James was on the brink of a career comeback. That brief introduction would eventually lead to Ray’s 14-year career as Etta James’ musical director and guitarist.
While working for Etta James, Ray also shared stages with musicians such as Keith Richards, Santana, Joe Cocker, Bonnie Raitt, John Lee Hooker and Bo Diddley. At this time he also began focusing more on songwriting. Ray spent the late 1980s collaborating with musicians such as Peter Frampton, Rita Coolidge, Michael Steele (of The Bangles) and Steve LeGassick, who became a songwriting partner for 13 years. It was this songwriting partnership with LeGassick that would create the 1987 Smokey Robinson award-winning hit “One Heartbeat”, which has received over 2,000,000 airplays.
Prior to working with Paul McCartney in 2002, Ray was working on tour in France with two different French artists, Mylène Farmer and Johnny Hallyday. Abe Laboriel Jr., a drummer who had worked with Brian Ray, mentioned that Paul McCartney was in search of a guitarist who could easily switch between guitar and bass guitar. After meeting with McCartney’s producer for Driving Rain, David Kahne, Ray joined Paul McCartney for the pre-game performance of “Freedom” at the NFL’s Super Bowl XXXVI in 2002.
Ray joined the rest of Paul McCartney’s band for the Driving Rain tour in promotion of the album. As of then, he has appeared on McCartney’s solo albums, such as Back in the World, Back in the U.S. and Memory Almost Full, as well as three concert DVDs: Paul McCartney in Red Square, The Space Within US and Good Evening New York City.
In addition to being a session musician, Brian Ray has also contributed to film scores such as the soundtrack to the film Heartbreakers in 1984. In 2002, Ray and Abe Laboriel Jr. composed the score for the independent film The Failures. In 2011, Ray joined with Oliver Leiber to form The Bayonets.
After decades of performing, writing and recording with musical artists, Brian Ray released his first solo album, Mondo Magneto, on October 16, 2006 through his record label Whooray Records.
“People have always asked me when I was going to do my own thing“, Ray said, “I guess I was just busy.“
Musicians on Mondo Magneto include Scott Shriner from Weezer, Davey Faragher from Elvis Costello’s band, as well as Abe Laboriel, Jr., Wix Wickens and Rusty Anderson from Paul McCartney’s band.
When Ray asked the blues singer and his former boss Etta James if she would sing with him on the album her answer was simple, and immediate – “I’ll do anything for Brian.“
Mondo Magneto’s record release party was held at The Mint in Los Angeles, California on January 21, 2006. Ray’s live band, Black Unicorn, includes musicians Peter Thorn on guitar, John Button on bass, and Matt Laug on drums. The band performs their music in Los Angeles clubs, such as The Viper Room and The Mint.
In 2008, Larry Graves and Brian Ray made a video for Ray’s song “Coming Up Roses“.
In April 2009, Ray revealed that he was working on a second album, entitled This Way Up.
From Glide Magazine, March 13, 2017:
What’s the funniest thing Paul McCartney has ever done to you onstage?
(laughs) One time a woman threw her bra at Paul and he grabbed it off the stage without missing a beat and tossed it at my face. That might have been the funniest thing he has ever done. But he’s always full of subtle pranks.
Were you nervous that first time you played with him?
Fortunately, I had done so many shows and had been playing so much live in my own life that I found some way to cope with my nerves that night. And yes, I was very nervous. But I found some way to cope and one of the ways I coped was I basically didn’t make any eye contact with him (laughs). I tried to not even acknowledge the fact that it was Paul McCartney. It was enough to just get through the night with all of this music that we rehearsed, like forty songs.
Do you remember where that show was?
Yeah, that was at the arena in Oakland, California
Was the crowd good to you?
Oh my God, yeah. I mean, they hadn’t seen Paul live in many, many years and he’s so delightful to a crowd and so lovely. He’s a warm sort of inviting guy, as you may have noticed if you’ve seen him live. He’s just a nice, relaxed guy who’s so comfortable in his own shoes. And they were so happy to see him, it was a tidal wave of love coming at us.
If you’re talking about me personally, yeah, there were a few shows where you didn’t feel like they cared about you at all. I remember looking over my left shoulder at one show and I’m smiling at the audience and receiving smiles back and I’m looking at the audience at some arena somewhere and some woman points to me and gestures for me to get out of the way so she could see Paul! (laughs). It was so funny. These kinds of things are hilarious but you know what, you can understand it.
It is our 21st year now. You could call him my boss but he’s more than that. People says “oh what a great gig. A gig isn’t a big enough word for what happened to us as individuals, and as a band. It’s a life-changing event for us, and we’re the same four guys behind him that have been there for 20 and a half years. And then we’ve just recently added some lovely Brit horn players. So now, there’s seven of us behind him and you know, we couldn’t be happier as a band to have done this, but it really is about him and his trust in us … because obviously Paul is someone who has great taste, immense talent and could have anyone he wants. And the fact that he continued to call us back, and still does, is just very touching to me. I’m super grateful for that and he’s just a great leader, an inspiring cat, so musical. Whatever you think you suspect he would be, it’s times 10 in terms of how he embodies music 24 7. He is music, and it’s really inspiring to me.
What’s the creative process like when you’re with him in the studio?
Well, it’s different in different circumstances but usually we’ll take the biggest room in a in a professional big studio and he will bring down his people and he will bring down every keyboard that he might want to go play so you’ve got an upright piano, you’ve got a grand piano, you’ve got a Fender Rhodes piano, you’ve got a Wurlitzer piano, you’ve got two or three different kinds of synths and you’ve got an acoustic guitar, you’ve got an electric guitar, you’ve got a bass and you’ve got a bunch of those and they’re all set up and mic and ready to go because he might want to play piano and then jump over to acoustic guitar back to back and you’ve got to be ready. Because he works in his own fashion, he’s gonna go and play and record an idea that just came to his mind in that moment, so it requires everyone to be on their toes. And as far as it affects the band, we’re there to serve at his pleasure, as a paintbrush on the palette. He’ll use this if he wants to, he doesn’t need any of us, he can do anything that he’s looking for himself but he generously has us do stuff sometimes. So sometimes we’ll play on a whole basic track as a band, sometimes we’ll just do a guitar overdub or a dulcimer or a solo, and there will be some waiting because he wants all those paint brushes to be ready just like all the instruments to be ready. But hey man who would you rather be waiting for Paul McCartney or some rando, you know…Brian Ray – Interview November 25, 2022 – From PAUL MCCARTNEY GUITARIST, BRIAN RAY, DISCUSS WHAT PAUL IS REALLY LIKE TO WORK WITH AND MORE! – YouTube
Last updated on December 11, 2022
Albums, EPs & singles which Brian Ray contributed to
By Paul McCartney • Official album
Contribution: Acoustic guitar • 1 songs
By Various Artists • Official album
Contribution: Guitar, Vocals • 1 songs
By Paul McCartney • Official album
Contribution: Acoustic guitar • 1 songs