Los Angeles, June 2006: Ray Parker Snr.’s son seemed forever, castigated to an era R&B that time forgot. It’s the ‘80’s and jeri-curls and crooners are in style. Alongside the likes of Luther and Freddie Jackson, Ray Parker Jr., while not as prolific, was R&B’s version of Billy D. Williams. He was smooth personified. In fact, his cool, slick demeanor often belied the fact that the Detroit native is one hell of a guitarist, earning his stripes in the Motor City playing on Motown sessions as a teenager and then going on to play on Stevie Wonder’s groundbreaking “Talking Book” and “Innvervisons” albums and hitting the road with Wonder and the Rolling Stones in 1972. More session work and songwriting followed. Most notably with Barry White before Parker formed Raydio who scored with the chilled out brand of catchy soul in the ’70’s with infectious singles such as “Jack And Jill”, “You Can’t Change That”, A Woman Needs Love (Just Like You Do)” and more.
Solo success came time in the early ‘80’s with the monumental smash “Ghostbusters” from the film of the same name. One of Ray’s most under- rated songs was ‘87’s “I Don’t Think That Man Should Sleep Alone” from his excellent “After Dark” album. However, his final studio album would be ‘91’s “I Love You Like You Are”. Now amazingly, fifteen years on from that the man has returned with a new collection, “I’m Free”. Adult contemporary soul, with a modern jazz twist, the album is a pleasant break from much of the mundane R&B of today. As with many of his hits from yester-year it’s enjoyable to see Ray not taking himself too seriously. In fact some of the songs on the new collection are downright comedic: “Glass Of Wine”, “Mid-Life Crisis”, “Rum Punch” all revolve around middle-aged themes of divorce, child-support and self medication, delivered in a tongue-in-cheek manner.
Quite what Parker had been up to for the last decade and a half and why he felt to end his extended hiatus was reason enough to chat with singer/songwriter/musician.
DEJANU: Ray, it seems like forever since we’ve heard from you. Where have you been and what have you been doing?
RAY PARKER JR: I’ve been a lazy bum! The last solo album was 14, maybe 15 years ago. My parents had got really sick and I wanted to spend time with them then I had l had little kids and tended to those little kids and the next thing you know a whole bunch of time went by.
DEJANU: Had you been doing anything musical in that time?
RPJ: I was mostly playing music at home and then during the last 4 years a bunch of friends like the Crusaders, Cheryl Lynn, Boz Scaggs, Toto were calling me to come play some concerts and play on their records. That’s got me back started really. I always played music at home for myself. I just didn’t put out any records.
DEJANU: You must have been very close to your parents?
RPJ: Yeah, extremely. They both passed. They lived to be 86. They both passed within the same year almost. My dad and my mum were really, really close to me. I grew up me and my brother and sister in the same house with my parents and I used to play nightclubs when I was 13, 14 years old and he’d (Ray’s father) stay up and drive me to every night club and stay there with me. We’ re talking major dedication. I bought them a house in Detroit and I’d travel back and forth between the two places.
DEJANU: Did you ever feel like you wouldn’t do music again?
RPJ:No. This whole cycle took 2 or 3 years. I just wanted to go back to Detroit and spend time with them. It’s really hard to cut a record when that’s going on.
DEJANU: Let’s talk about some of the songs. There’s definitely a comic element to your writing.
RPJ: What you’ve got to realize about these stories is that some of it’s true about me and some of it’s true about my friends. I collect stories. I guess I’m living through it all. But I guess the only song that represents me personally would have to be “Mexico” because I don’t drink and I’ve never done drugs ever. I’m a pretty straight guy. I’ve never been divorced before but I certainly know a bunch of people who have.
DEJANU: “Middle Age Crisis” is funny. There’s a strong grain of truth in there for a lot of middle- aged guys, I would imagine.
RPJ: “There’s no fool like an old fool” that was something my dad would say. It’s true of a few of my friends.
DEJANU: What’s an average day for you?
RPJ: Because I’ve put this record out on my own label an average day is just paperwork and flying around, doing a bunch of concerts. I’m busy all day, every day now. Quite the opposite of a 4 or 5 years ago. I have a TV show in Paris next week so I’ll go there and I’ll take my wife shopping as it’s our anniversary.
DEJANU: On this album, there are three instrumental songs. Have you ever thought about doing a straight up guitar jazz-fusion record?
RPJ: On every album I’ve every made there’s always been at least one instrumental. Now with CD’s we can put more songs on there so I’ve included 3 instrumentals.
DEJANU: I noticed you didn’t try to appeal to a younger audience by doing hip-hop orientated stuff. It’s very adult contemporary in its feel.
RPJ: That’s intentional by the way. I’ve seen a lot famous people do that and they look and sound funny. No one wants to see that at this age. So I elected to cut the beats I wanted to cut and tell more mature stories. When they see me on stage they can see me singing about that. When you’re 50 years old and singing “Hey, baby take your clothes off and bed over”, it just doesn’t work! There’s somethin’ really wrong with that!”
DEJANU: Are your children musically inclined?
RPJ: I’ve got a 19 year-old who looks like he’s going to get drafted to a B1 college here to play B1 football. He’s a star of the family. Then I have an 18 year-old who’s 6ft 7 and is in to basketball. He’s huge. Then I’ve got two little kids, 6 and 8. They love music a lot.
DEJANU: What do they make of you getting back into music?
RPJ: The little kids don’t understand what’s going on yet but the big kids were around for “Ghostbusters”. They’re watching me do it again.’
DEJANU: What have been some of the more memorable sessions you’ve worked on over the years?
RPJ: Let’s start with Stevie Wonder who taught me how to write songs in the first place. He recorded a bunch of my stuff and took me in the studio and spent time with me personally. Let’s talk about Barry White who was nice enough to let me play on all his songs and record a couple of my songs.
DEJANU: You played on the "Talking Book" album first, right?
RPJ: I was on the "Talking Book" album. I was still a teenager. It was a dream come true because the first tour I did was the Stevie and Rolling Stones tour, 1972. Doesn’t get much better than that. The girls were crazy. I’ve never seen anything like it before or since!
DEJANU: As a teenager, what did you learn from being on that tour?
RPJ: I learned a lot. I watched how the Stones were so professional on stage. In fact, were all still friends. Charlie Watts invited me to the concert they had here. I went over to the Hollywood Bowl a couple of months ago. My wife was real excited. She got to take her picture with Keith & Ronnie.
DEJANU: One thing about you musically is that you seem to be very eclectic.
RPJ: I started off in high school playing jazz in a jazz band so I like all types of music. The first thing we learned in Detroit was that you’ve gotta play everything. When I was kid I’d do a Motown session and then a Herbie Hancock session and then go play a Jewish Barmitzvah and be able to do that, too. I’m not going to say I was a genius, it’s just what they required of you in Detroit back then. If you couldn’t do it you were out.
DEJANU: Do you still practice guitar regularly?
RPJ: I practice every day. I practice songs that require me to play the rhythm, the bass part, the chords and the melody simultaneously. A hard song to play that’s more difficult is “Daytripper” by the Beatles which I’ve recently been doing.
DEJANU: Do you still have the Ameraycan Recording Studio?
RPJ: I gave up on the studio thing with the SSL a long time ago. It’s all Pro-Tools now so I have a Pro-Tools HD set up in my house.
DEJANU: You never came to England too much during your career, despite having some popular records.
RPJ: I did a tour in England one time. The UK’s one of my best markets. I won an Oscar (sic) there and wrote hits for other people there but I haven’t had a chance to tour there that much. I did one tour there when “Jack & Jill” came out and I remember it because it was at the Hammersmith Odeon and the equipment blew up and then the sound system blew up and everyone applauded me and I got great reviews because I kept my cool and didn’t curse and walk off stage. The PA system even blew out. Our equipment didn’t make it on the plane. We had to rent gear.
DEJANU: At your peak, you toured with a lot of different people in the States, though.
RPJ: I used to do a lot of tours with Rick James which was fun because he used to do a completely different type of music than I did so we actually worked out well together.
DEJANU: Was there anything you learned from being on the road with Rick?
RPJ: Don’t do drugs and fall off the stage! We used to have a running joke. I was always the clean guy and didn’t do drugs but he was always getting’ high. Ironically the last picture we took together was about 5 or 6 days before he died and it has me drinking a glass of water and him drinking some Scotch! He was a really fun guy. A nice guy. I guess you’d hear a lot of crazy stories about him and maybe some of that stuff is true but I never knew him as that guy. He was always fun and nice. We’d share trucks with equipment. If I needed lights, he’d just give it to me. A really nice guy.
About the Writer
Jeff Lorez has enjoyed a long and varied career in the music business. As a journalist he has written for a slew of publications and web sites including, Blues & Soul, Billboard, Yahoo.com and the Daily Telegraph and as a music publisher he has been involved in recent chart topping hits by Alexis Jordan and Cher Lloyd.