This week we continue our Friends of LITA series with one of our favorite unsung folk/rock artist Ray Stinnett. We first reissued Ray’s solo debut, A Fire Somewhere, back in 2012 and a month ago we presented a show at The Mint in Los Angeles featuring Ray. The show was amazing! Ray was backed by his family band and performed a beautifully authentic and soulful set. After the show we caught up with Ray for a quick interview. Below you can read our Q&A with Ray, where we discuss his time with Sam The Sham & The Pharaohs, living on a commune in San Francisco and of course Lady Gaga…
1. You recently played a live show at The Mint, and prior to that show you mentioned that you hadn’t played LA since you were with Sam The Sham & The Pharaohs back in 1965 at The Trip with Taj Mahal and The Byrds. That must have been a great show. Can you tell us a little about that?
First let me say, that was a great time in my personal history and the future of all music was rapidly changing. In general I’m talking about the end of 1965 –early 1966. It’s been so long I couldn’t say exactly, but I want to share with you my recollections of the happenings of that time. We had been on the road doing tours, shows, television and everything that goes with it for almost a year and we were back stage friends with all the other top acts of that time. When we were in Hollywood we always stayed at the Hallmark House at Sunset and La Brea. The strip was a-buzz with action. We had just returned from a three week tour in Germany (we were voted more popular than the Beatles or the Stones) and a major TV and stage show in Paris. We flew into NY to do a scheduled Ed Sullivan appearance and when we arrived we had to jump another jet because The Sullivan Show had been moved to LA for the month,. So after we arrived and did Ed Sullivan we stayed around LA for several weeks doing other TV shows and a Hollywood Bowl Concert with some of our good friends, such as the Kinks. We had no other shows booked at this time and so we spent a lot of time going out to the clubs where some of our other friends and favorite groups were playing. The Byrds music was different than any other on the scene at that time and we were fascinated with their sound, the feeling and entire demeanor of their act. Their audience was totally immersed in their music and everybody was on cloud nine when the Byrds played. The acid music movement was gaining momentum, people were tripping right and left and no place exemplified that better than a club on West Sunset called “The Trip”. The Byrds had become the staple act at The Trip and when you went in the door you instantly knew why. The sound was filled with high decibel folk/rock chime guitars and amazing harmonies, amid flashing strobe lights, hundreds of devoted music fans allow themselves to become immersed in the music and move with body rhythms and cosmic undulations hence before not known in popular music. West Hollywood was Camelot and the age of the beautiful and liberated people had arrived. Jimi Hendrix had just arrived from England and was playing a little club down the street and our manager just booked us into The Trip for a week, sharing the stage with the Byrds and Taj Mahal, a long time favorite of mine. The time was right, the air was ripe with change, the blues roots of music was merging more with the folk/rock and people were rediscovering themselves from the ground up and so was I. Playing the Trip with Taj Mahal and the Byrds was in it’s self a …..Trip! An eye opening experience reminding me once again how much we, the music and the fans, are all one!
2. At the show the other night, the band consisted mainly of your family members: your wife, son and two daughters. How is playing music with your family different than playing music with other musicians?
The show at the Mint was the first time Sandra and I had performed with the other family members in a number of years. Back in the mid to late 90s we played a lot. My daughter, Marea, played bass and my son Aaron, drums. We recorded quite a few songs and were ready to play out but things changed and people moved on. Aaron was in a popular ska band and Marea got married and that’s just how it goes. Everyone has our best wishes always but everyone has to follow their own path and so must we. So Sandra and I keep the music alive by using rhythm and bass technology to underlie our playing when we don’t have, or need other live players to perform. I respect every other musicians accomplishments and their ability to perform on their instrument. To me the greatest accomplishment for any player who performs with other players is to frame and punctuate the music being played in a subtle but solid way so that the sound of performance is what you hear, not the musicians creating it. This is the holy grail of performance …the epitome of simple perfection. In folk/rock it’s the song and the sound. In hard rock styles it’s the beat and bass that carries the guitar. Since I play different kinds of music, ideally I have different band and musician needs. I have always been in a quandary as to how to roll out my live music to the public because keeping a band together may be one of the hardest things to do unless everyone is on the same page all the time and economics plays no small part.
3. Any plans on playing additional shows or a possible tour?
Yes, I would like to play more shows and I am currently working on developing various aspects of the music venture from production to promotion and everything in between. It takes so much time and energy to do so much but this is the modern music business. The opportunity to promote oneself in this DIY environment is only hampered by ones knowledge, ability, energy and finances. Piece of cake! Not! Pardon my mad ravings….so the deal is this: I would like to do a series of singer/songwriter gigs, Sandra and I up close and personal. I want to get to know my audience and give them a chance to know the singer/songwriter side of my music. Then there is the harder driving music that relies so much on a strong beat and bass line so I can lay down the kind of guitar work that was my passion when I was young and still is something I love to this day. The ultimate goal is to have this kind of integrated performance capability and be able to roll it out anywhere, anytime.
4. After Sam The Sham & The Pharaohs disbanded in the late 60′s you went to live on the Morning Star Ranch in Northern California, where you focused on your own personal music. How did your experience living at Morning Star shape the sound that would later become A Fire Somewhere?
After we left Sam the Sham, the four Pharaohs soon became the three original Pharaohs and we called ourselves “The 1st Century”, we were very much influenced by the music of groups like the Byrds and other folk, rock and eastern styles of music coming forth at that time. I had acquired a dulcimer, a recorder flute and I made an instrument out of my dining room door and some spare parts to play a facsimile of Eastern music typified by the sitar. We recorded several folk type songs I wrote using these instruments in 1966 at Ardent studio in Memphis. In the spring of 1967 we were playing in a club in San Bernardino when the news was beginning to spread about the festivals in the park and the whole SF Bay Area hippie movement. My friend, drummer Jerry Patterson and I took off on this adventure and soon landed at Morning Star Ranch where there was a dedicated group of individuals interested in living the good life without all of the bounds of social convention but guided more by individual as well as group spirit. There was a beautiful tended garden and an old stone well at the crossroads and a big fire ring area where people could sit and exchange vibes on those cold, clear California nights. Lou Gottlieb (Limelighters) had a little redwood cabin with his piano and presided over the ebb and flow of seekers as well as county officials who were interested mostly in the structures that had sprung up in and under redwood trees in areas of the 30 acres of mountain and meadow land. Jerry stayed for a week or so but eventually went back to Memphis as his wife did not want to come to SF. My wife Sandra on the other hand was willing to take on the adventure so she sold and stored our stuff and gave up the house so she and my son could share the adventure with me. I had acquired a good bit of camping gear and had a spot overlooking the creek on the hillside just behind the meadow. We were having life experiences that transcended our previous modes of thinking and being, like becoming a child again with the eyes and abilities of an adult. It always made me think of the Byrds song lyric “I was so much older then but I’m younger than that now” We had acquired a nice tent which I erected on a platform with a red carpet. Life was good and with no electricity the acoustic sounds of the door (instrument) was all I had until Sandra traded something for a little hand made guitar from Mexico. I had not even touched an acoustic since my earliest days of playing until then. My old friends (last year) from the big stage were diversifying into different groups such as “Cream” and the LP’s flowed with new and beautiful music. We went to concerts in the woods to see Janis with Big Brother and listened to every new record that came out with the new music and folk, finger picking and ethnic styles of all kinds co-existed alongside Jimi Hendrix and the Doors. Two of my recordings made at Ardent were leased to Capitol records and released without my permission, and with no promotional budget while I was at Morning Star. The little acoustic guitar became my best mode of expression when it came to songwriting, which started coming more naturally and frequently. For me the whole experience was an eye opening cultural and spiritual journey that did not end when we left. You just have to know this was a revolution that was taking place in many forms inside us all.
5. What’s on the horizon for you? Do you have plans of putting out new material?
The horizon is a great goal because it’s someplace we can continue to sail for but never reach. That’s OK cause it’s the journey that counts most anyway. I have been writing and recording songs for all these years because I still feel as connected as ever. You can never give up a thing if you love it enough and so I still get inspired to write and enjoy discovering the words to some progression I might have been playing…I love discovering music from within….it’s a meditation. I also like creating music from without, as in develop it from it’s component parts. I have so many options in my little studio; analog over digital and acoustic to total synthesis. I like to use them all and look forward to releasing a lot of material existing and new. Currently we plan to release select recordings from the past four decades on a compilation CD package entitled Ray Stinnett, Phase Shifter (Chronos0009), a compilation available later this spring on my Axecut Record label. I’m currently working to get my marketing together so I can build a fan base and a music magazine at the same time online. I can have lots of articles and things to blog about as long as someone cares to listen. The music flows all through every thing I do and say, soon it takes on a life of it’s own. I think it will be a lot of fun to bring some of this fresh baked music to iTunes in conjunction with an audience to consume it. We encourage all of our fans and friends to visit the AxeGrinder MusicZine site www.axemanmusic.net and sign up for a subscription to our newsletter. Subscribe to our video channel at YouTube, “Medinett” where we have an AxeManMusic Video playlist which currently is of our recent show at The MintLA. Also there is an AxeManMusic Trailer encouraging people to join for social interaction as fans and friends. We want to build a street team of interested fans. Lots of creative opportunities and exclusives for all and we’re working on perks just for you, being there for us.
6. Before we let you go, can you tell us what you have been listening to these days?
Lady Ga Ga,…saw her on the new Tonight Show and I really enjoyed her visually artistic and musically clean performance delivered in her simplistic style (reminded me of myself). Good music is when and where you find it. Roger McGwen ,…saw him do beautiful performances of “Mr Tambourine Man” and “I Was So Much Older Then” backed by really good professionals …the music was alive and well…on PBS folk music special.