Interview recorded on January 19, 2012
On February 13, TVOne's music documentary series "Unsung" will feature Ray Parker, Jr.'s story. On the eve of this occasion, Ray talked to Darnell Meyers-Johnson about his early years as a hit songwriter, the Grammy winning song that was stolen from him, and why he decided to step into the spotlight as a performer.
He also set the record straight about his biggest hit, the Oscar nominated "Ghostbusters" and gave an update on what he's doing today.
Darnell Meyers-Johnson: Good day. This is Darnell Meyers-Johnson for SoulMusic.com. Today I am speaking with someone who was making a name for himself as a songwriter and a musician long before he stepped into the spotlight with his own hits. He toured with The Spinners, he recorded with Stevie and he wrote for Chaka before finally having his first hit, “Jack and Jill”, with his own band, Raydio. Many hits would follow, but perhaps he will be best known for his 1984 Oscar-nominated song “Ghostbusters”, from the movie of the same name. He is a singer, he is a songwriter, he is a guitarist, he’s a producer—he is Mr. Ray Parker Jr. How are you, sir?
Ray Parker Jr.: I am wonderful.
DMJ: I just want to say I do appreciate your time in speaking with us today.
RPJ: Yeah, it’s fun. I love to reach out to the audience because they’ve blessed me so much, so I’m up for it.
DMJ: So let’s dive right into it. You have an amazing history in this business, and I should say from the onset that your story is going to be featured on an upcoming episode of TV One’s music documentary series Unsung. Why did you agree to do that show?
RPJ: Well, I saw the Deniece Williams version and she’s a really good friend of mine. I like the work that Michael Ajakwe did on there. So he approached me to do it and I said, “If YOU’RE going to do it I will allow this to happen.” At first I had my reservations about it, because I said, “Well, what does Unsung mean? I don’t know if I consider myself unsung.” So it’s an interesting title to the show. But I’d watched some of the other shows, and I think it’s a really, really good music show and it reaches out to people nationally really, really well.
DMJ: And have you had a chance to review your episode?
RPJ: Yes, I got to review my episode a month or so ago and I liked it, it’s really, really nice. I gotta tell you though, I’ve seen so much drama on some of the other episodes that I now realize how blessed I really am. You look at it, and without just the normal ups and downs, some of these people were affected at birth: fathers doing crazy stuff to the kids and things that are totally out of your control. It’s one thing to say, “Okay, I did the cocaine, I spent the money,” but it’s another thing to get in a car wreck and two people die, or some crazy stuff.
Those shows have been really, really enlightening. And also for me, I know a lot of the people, but I’ve learned so much about people that I thought I knew already.
DMJ: It’s interesting that you say that, and I wasn’t going to start our conversation here, but since we are here let’s just do it. You have managed to avoid certain pitfalls in your career, particularly with you being around during the seventies and the eighties with a lot of drug use and a lot of things going on. I recently talked to Nile Rodgers and he talked about his experience with the drug scene. And you somehow managed to avoid that part of it. Why do you think that was?
RPJ: Well, first of all, I could never even possibly imagine telling my mom and dad that I’m doing drugs—or anybody else telling them for that matter. So I think just some things like that, respect for my parents, kept me in line. But I never really found drinking or drugs or any of that stuff remotely interesting. And as far as spending way too much money, that never really occurred to me—my dad always taught me to save. And the rest of it is just the blessing that I was born in a good family with good people around me and good friends, and that stuff. So some of it’s in your control and some of it, I would say, is out of my control.
DMJ: We’re used to seeing you onstage with your guitar. You’ve mentioned in other interviews that it is your favourite instrument. What is it about the guitar that appeals to you most?
RPJ: That’s a good question. To me, the guitar is like a beautiful girl that you can’t take your eyes off—I just took one look at it, played it and fell in love. I’ve been in love since I was nine years old with the guitar. And by the way, I did start on the clarinet and saxophone, so it’s not like I didn’t try something else first. I did a little bit of piano, a little bit of clarinet and saxophone, then I just got to the guitar and that was it for me right there. Just like a match made in heaven.
DMJ: Who were The Stingrays?
RPJ: The Stingrays was my first band when I was six years old. I had the clarinet, Nathan Watts played the trumpet, Ollie Brown played the drums and we played all over the place. We didn’t have enough sense to know we didn’t have any chords or any bass or any of that; we didn’t care. But we were really, really popular at six years old and we played all the PTA meetings and orphanages and just everywhere. We were on tour—in Detroit [laughs].
DMJ: Well, tell me about that, because I was going to ask you: I know you’re quite the Californian today, but you’re from Motown, the Motor City. So I was going to ask you also what it was like growing up there, especially during the rise of Motown?
RPJ: Yeah, Detroit was wonderful. I don’t know if I grew up during the rise of Motown; I made it a little late. Seemed like Motown was happening when I was ten years old and I was listening to “My Girl” and all the big hits at that time. But Detroit was just a really, really wonderful city to grow up in. It was the largest place in the world, I think, for single-family homes, so everybody lived in a home. And the music scene was just unbelievable.
The band you just asked me about, The Stingrays: upstairs over me lived Ollie Brown, down the street lived Nathan Watts, George Clinton was on the corner; and everybody turned out to be professional musicians, even today, in that neighborhood. Just amazing, the amount of people who went through there and stayed with the music.
DMJ: You said you were only about ten years old when Motown was pretty much established, but you were only maybe a few years older than that when you started gigging, if I’m not mistaken. Tell me how you got your start in the music business.
RPJ: I would say professionally the first gig I went on was a group called The Spinners, that nobody had heard of. I was a little depressed, actually, because I wanted to play with The Temptations. Motown had this group called The Spinners. Billy Henderson came over to my house with a chart, it was “Fascinating Rhythm”: “If you can play ‘Fascinating Rhythm’, you can be in the band.” So I was thirteen years old. We played it, and he asked my mom, “Can Ray go on tour with me? I’ll have him back Monday morning for school.” And my mom said yes, and that was my first time going on tour. I was thirteen years old. And then later I played with The Spinners at the Twenty Grand nightclub, but everybody played there: Gladys Knight and The Pips, Temptations—everybody. But I remember The Spinners played there too, and they had replaced their singer. They got this guy, Philippe Wynne. That was really exciting because he was exciting even before they went to Philly International and even before they had any hit records.
DMJ: 1972 seemed to be a banner year for you in a lot of ways. If I read my information correctly you were only about a year or so out of high school but you were touring with the Rolling Stones and you also ended up playing on Stevie’s landmark album, TALKING BOOK. I wanted you to tell me a little bit about each of those experiences. Which happened first?
RPJ: Well, here’s what happened first. I went to summer school every year to get out of high school early, so I graduated early. And I was finishing my first year of college when Stevie Wonder calls me on the telephone and asks me do I want to play on the TALKING BOOK album and go on tour with him and the Rolling Stones and play on a Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young record, or something like that.
Now being eighteen years old, Stevie Wonder was my favourite artist of all time: I only had one tape in the car and that was MUSIC OF MY MIND. So I thought everybody was kidding me, so I kept hanging up the phone on him every time he called. So finally he called back and said, “We keep getting disconnected,” and I said some not-so-nice words—I thought it was one of my friends, acting silly. But anyway, he played me the rhythm track to “Superstition” over the telephone and that really got my attention—when I heard that I knew I was talking to Stevie Wonder on the phone.
DMJ: So he kind of had to audition for you.
RPJ: Yeah, how about that? He ended up auditioning for me. So anyway, I had to have a long talk with my parents… and I’m giving you the short of it, because my dad wanted me to finish college and get a job working at Ford. But after some days of coercing and really working hard on my dad, he allowed me to leave college and go on tour.
DMJ: Was it your father’s main concern that he wanted you to have something to fall back on? Because obviously I would assume your father was aware of who Stevie Wonder was and the huge star he was at the time.
RPJ: Well, my father was much older than me at the time—I think he had me when he was forty-seven—so the only thing he knew about the music business or musicians was that they played nightclubs and they didn’t make any money. So he just wanted me to get a regular job at Ford where I could get a retirement plan—what he called a white-collar job, because he had a blue-collar job.
DMJ: A few years after that with Rufus and Chaka Khan, they released their second album RAGS TO RUFUS. One of the hits on there was a song called “You Got the Love” which you cowrote with Chaka. How did that whole collaboration come about?
RPJ: That whole collaboration came about in a very strange way. After I got done with the Rolling Stones tour and recording with Stevie and playing all that stuff, I got in my car and pointed it west and told my parents, “I’ll call you collect when I see the Pacific Ocean.” And the first stop for me was an apartment building that just happened to be next door to where Andre Fischer and Chaka Khan lived. And I wrote that song for Barry White to record, or Stevie… I couldn’t get any of the big acts to do it. And so my friend Andre Fischer said, “Why don’t you cut it on Rufus?” We went in and we recorded the track, Chaka wrote the lyrics and then I said to myself, “Boy, she can really sing.” [Laughs] And the rest is history.
DMJ: I always like to ask people what they learned from different experiences, so I want to take a half step back to what we were talking about with Stevie and the Rolling Stones and being on the road with them, and you being experienced to a degree but still very young. What did you learn from that experience from those two in particular?
RPJ: Well, that tour in particular took me out of my comfort zone of living in Detroit, doing everything at home. So I finally got a chance to see the whole world, and it just really opened my mind and opened my horizon. I would recommend to anybody who’s young, they should travel a bit and just see different things. It really, really opened my horizon to what was possible to be, where I wanted to go, where I wanted to hit. Everything I thought I wanted to do… once I’d seen the world and seen how everybody else lives and how everybody else is doing different things, everything changed for me that day.
DMJ: And was there anything in particular that you learned about the music business from that tour?
RPJ: Not really. I learned more about the music business once I got to L.A. On that tour I was just playing guitar and having a really, really good time. I can’t even say that I got into too much business at that moment.
DMJ: From doing these interviews I have learned from several people that some of their greatest moments in the business were when they didn’t have to worry about the business part of it...
DMJ: ...and they got their greatest joy from just performing.
I want to jump into 1976. There was a song that was a huge hit that year by Leo Sayer called “You Make Me Feel Like Dancing”. It went to number one on the pop charts; it even won a Grammy Award for Best R&B Song. How were you connected to that song?
RPJ: I actually wrote that song at my house, at home. During a lunch break—because I played on all of Leo’s stuff—during a lunch break the producer came in, Richard Perry, and heard it and he wanted to know, “Could we record it on Leo Sayer?” I said, “Well, this is my song. I’m doing it on me on something else.” He says, “Well, I like that groove and the band seems to know it—you taught it to the band during lunch break. Can we record it?” I said, “Okay.” He said he’d give me my share of the song, which never happened—I never got my share of the song, I never got credit for the song… just mysteriously all of a sudden, I wasn’t on there.
Leo Sayer, by the way, was hurt himself—he tried to record five or six more of my songs to make up for it, but none of them were a hit like that one. So it wasn’t his fault—he’s a nice guy, it wasn’t his fault—we still remain friends to this day. But it was the producer’s fault. He just decided he was going to take my portion of the song and do whatever he wanted to do with it, and he did not do what he said he was going to do. As you can see, I learned a lot about the music business that afternoon.
DMJ: On the writing credits today on that song, Leo’s listed as one or the cowriters. Did he write any part of that song?
RPJ: I’m sure he wrote part of the lyrics or part of the melody, or something.
DMJ: Were you also familiar with the other gentleman who is listed as a co-writer, Vini Poncia.
RPJ: Never heard of him. Never seen him before, never heard of him. He was not in the studio when I cut the record.
RPJ: And by the way, mysteriously the other person’s publishing belonged to the producer, Richard Perry.
DMJ: Oh—gotcha, gotcha, gotcha… that’s how the dots connect, okay.
RPJ: Yeah. Coincidence, right?
DMJ: Just a mere coincidence. So did you ever consider pursuing litigation with the matter, or you just chalked it up as a lesson learned?
RPJ: Well first of all, I was too young to really understand what litigation was, and he was Producer of the Year at the time, so he was a real big shot in the world and I was the smallest person you could think of, being a guitar player coming from Detroit. So it didn’t seem like a possibility, although in hindsight I wish I had of, yeah.
DMJ: And last question on that particular matter: when did you learn that that song had essentially been stolen from you? When did you first realize what was really happening?
RPJ: At the record store. When the record came out, I was so excited I went to Tower Records to get a copy of it, and I stood in there for I don’t know, forty-five minutes trying to find my name on the single 45. And I’ll never forget the girl Bernadette who had the band… [Sings] “Meeting in the ladies room”—I forget the name of the group—
RPJ: Yeah, Klymaxx. She was working as a security guard at Tower Records, and that’s how I met her. She knew who I was, because I was a popular musician around L.A. She came down to see if I was having some trouble—was I stealing the record, what was I doing?—she said, “I’ve been staring at you, for forty-five minutes you’ve been looking at this record.” I said, “I’m trying to find my name.” She said, “There’s only three lines on there.” But I was there forty-five minutes.
DMJ: There must be a misprint on there.
RPJ: Exactly: “What happened here?”
DMJ: That following year you signed your own deal with Arista Records, then in ’78 you came out with your band Raydio. Was it always your desire to step into the spotlight as a performer?
RPJ: No. It was the desire to step into the spotlight because when I wrote some of the other songs, my mother didn’t see my picture on the record and my name was so small on the label she needed a magnifying glass to read it. So to me it was just embarrassing: “Gee, I gotta cut a record with my face on the front so my mama can see it.” That was really my motivation.
DMJ: And that first single, “Jack and Jill”, that you guys had, you didn’t sing lead on that. Was there any particular reason why you didn’t? Because as I’m listening to you now, basically it sounds like you wanted to have that centre stage recognition for your mom and, but your voice wasn’t the lead voice.
RPJ: Well, I’m singing the lead during the chorus but it’s also got, I don’t know, eight other voices along with me. Arnell sang the second half of the verse and Jerry sang the first half of the verse, and it was really for a very good reason: at that time I couldn’t sing that well. Just as simple as that. So I decided to put together a band and split up the vocals and just sing small parts, and it really wasn’t till my fourth album that I sang all the way through, and that was “A Woman Needs Love (Just Like You Do)”.
DMJ: Well here we go, because I was going to say we don’t have time to get into all of your hits, because we’d be talking for hours, but I wanted to ask you about that song in particular because that song was a huge hit in my house—my mother just played that song constantly. I think she was even infatuated with you, so that added to it. Tell me what you remember about the making of that song.
RPJ: I remember making that song probably far more than any other one. Because I had written the song and usually Arnell takes the higher parts of the song, and I had written it out of his key. I recorded it in the wrong key and the only person who could sing it was me. I was a little nervous—I’d never really sang a song all the way through where I’m carrying the melody. And everybody kept saying, “It sounds okay, it sounds okay.” And I really put all the tracks to record and I was going to erase the whole thing. I was like, “I’m done with this, it’s taking too long.”
My best friend Ollie stopped me, he says, “Why don’t you just let Clive Davis hear it? Doesn’t sound that bad, this one.” And so he heard it, he was happy with it—everybody was happy with it—and the record came out and all the girls loved the sound of the voice, which really shocked me. I’d been practicing every year, and every year I got better and better and better, but it wasn’t until that song that my voice had evolved into where I could really, really sing it. But I guess the vocal muscle is like a muscle in your arm: if you don’t exercise it then it doesn’t work.
DMJ: I was actually going to ask you about your vocal style, because I could see how it could be perceived as sensual and it did stand out from other singers of the day and even other singers of today. But it just naturally developed that way? You weren’t necessarily trying to sound sexy, I guess?
RPJ: Hey, not even. Everything, I can tell you, was an accident—like all that “Mmm” that the girls like. See, I thought I was being like Teddy Pendergrass, but my voice is not even a third as loud as his, right?
DMJ: Right, right.
RPJ: So he had so much more oomph to his, and his came out different from mine. His came out more minister-preachery-blacker; mine came out more sneakier-sexier. But that’s who I was trying to imitate, it just came out differently.
DMJ: And by the time that song came out, the group Raydio had become Ray Parker Jr. and Raydio. It seemed that everyone already knew that that was your band—your image was prominently featured on the album covers. Why was the name change necessary?
RPJ: Well first of all, when I signed the deal with Arista it was really just Ray Parker Jr. But what most people won’t realize is in those days if you’re a musician and you make a record, everybody just calls it jazz. It doesn’t matter what it sounds like. It can have all rock guitars—it’s still jazz. They have a picture of you holding a guitar on the front, and there you go.
So my thing with Clive was we wanted to go R&B Top Forty, so I came up with the name Raydio, put the Y in it because it’s a neutral-sounding name, and I thought it would allow me to get on Top Forty radio… which in those days was another big deal because you had to cross over from R&B radio. So if the name of the group wasn’t right, maybe you wouldn’t even cross over. So I was trying to reach all of the markets at the same time.
DMJ: Right. And Michael Ajakwe, who produced your Unsung episode—which I should let everyone know airs on February 13th—told me that Clive Davis shared with him that he used you as a template for the pop success he would have later on with people like Whitney Houston. From your perspective, what do you think Clive Davis saw in a young Ray Parker Jr?
RPJ: Now that I’m older I know exactly what he saw: first of all, I gave him a song he really, really loved, and that was “Jack and Jill”; he had heard my past reputation where I wrote the “You Make Me Feel Like Dancing”; the Chaka Khan songs; I had a big hit with Barry White and several others; because I was a studio musician I had all my own money; I owned my own recording studio at the time, which was really unheard-of for just about anybody; and I was twenty-one years old. So in his mind he’s saying, “Who the heck is this twenty-one-year-old kid who’s got his own money, got his own recording studio, is recording all his own stuff and he’s written some hits? How come I don’t know about him?”
So in hindsight, now I wish I could find that same configuration—I wish I could find somebody twenty, twenty-one years old who’s not asking you for any money who says, “I got mine. We’re just cutting music.”
DMJ: What a lot of people may not know about your story is that around ’82 you essentially retired from the business. You weren’t even thirty years old at that point. What prompted that decision?
RPJ: My mom and dad got sick, and that just took me out of everything… that slowed me down. I used to read articles: “Boy, this guy Ray Parker Jr. had a perfect career, everything was great, then he just threw it in the trash.” That’s not really true. Everybody has to do the things that are really, really important to them. And when your mom and dad are sick and you’re that close to your parents, as I was, to me it didn’t seem like I was throwing anything away. I really had to focus in, and I was more concerned about my mom and dad than I was the music business. And by the way, I love the music business, but I also really, really love my mom and dad.
So it wasn’t like I was some snotty-nosed kid saying, “I’m rich, I’m going to retire,” because that’s way too young to retire. But I really needed to go spend time with my mom and dad in Detroit, and I was concerned about them—they were getting older and getting sick. And I’m glad that I did.
DMJ: And when we say the word retire, sometimes for some people that just means they’re not making their own albums or touring themselves—they still may tinker around with some other behind-the-scenes stuff. Were you doing anything at all, or you just walked away?
RPJ: At that time I wasn’t even doing recording sessions, I just completely stopped doing everything. My mind was totally somewhere else. And it wasn’t till about a year later I remember I got a phone call from Jheryl Busby, who was running MCA at the time—Universal, whatever they called it—and he wanted me to do New Edition. I was real reluctant to do that, because I was like, “Man, I’m not in the right songwriting mood right now.” He asked me to go see them in Boston, and I was in Detroit at the time, and that didn’t sound too appealing in February. He was a really clever guy, though. He says, “Let’s get the jet and let’s go to the Bahamas, to catch a plane to go to the Bahamas.” That was like a month later, in March I think. And I was like, “I could probably use a break right about here. I’m in Detroit, it’s cold, my parents are sick and there ain’t nothing great happening here.”
So we went to the Bahamas to see the group, and we partied so much in the Bahamas that we actually missed the show. Now I feel obligated to record the song, and I was, “Oh my gosh, what am I getting myself into?” And pleasantly, the group had taken one of my older songs that I had recorded and never released, “Mr. Telephone Man”, so I actually got a break there; I didn’t have to write a new song. They just wanted me to record the old song, which is a lot easier than composing a brand-new one. So I recorded that and while I was in L.A., which is the week I was in L.A., another friend of mine, Gary LaMelle, called me up and asked me would I take a crack at writing a song for this movie called "Ghostbusters". I wasn’t that hyped up on that, I wanted to go back home and be with my parents. He says, “Well, you’re already here. We’ll pay you like fifty grand just to spend two or three days and compose a song. It’s only a minute”—I think it was only twenty seconds in the movie—“If we don’t like it, you keep the fifty grand.” Well, that’s a good deal—it’s only going to have twenty seconds of music over the library thing.
I actually did a minute and a half, because it’s actually difficult to write twenty seconds of music, it’s so short. So I got about a minute and a half of it, a minute and twenty seconds of it, played it for them and they just loved it. And the version you hear today, the instruments, we had to loop it to get to four minutes—it was only a minute and a half of it.
DMJ: In your answer, you covered the two questions I had next: I was going to ask you about New Edition and “Mr. Telephone Man”, because the reports had been conflicting about whether you wrote that song specifically for them or whether that was a song you had already as part of your catalogue, so to speak.
RPJ: If you want to call it a catalogue at that young age: I actually wrote Mr. Telephone Man” before “Jack and Jill”.
DMJ: So that’s one you had been sitting on for a minute, as they say these days.
RPJ: Yeah, I was a teenager when I wrote that, which maybe gives it that sound.
DMJ: And this is all in 1984. "Ghostbusters", as you said, came out; it was a big, huge success. I’m not going to ask you too much about how you came to write it because you spoke about that in lots of interviews. But I was surprised to learn that you felt that the makers of the film somehow resented the success you were having with the song. What gave you that impression?
RPJ: I’m not going to say the makers of the film resented the success I had with the song, but they did ask me for some of the money back. I’m not exactly sure what that was based upon, but they seemed to be having a problem, as the song became more and more successful… of course the song got into several lawsuits—about ten of them—which they thought maybe I was responsible for some of them. I thought they were responsible for some of them. So I don’t know.
I’ve seen Ivan Reitman recently, I saw him in Vegas. He is very nice to me, I’m very nice to him—I always buy him a bottle of wine because he’s the guy who picked the song. So whenever I see him I got a smile on my face. So it went really weird at the company… it seemed like people were acting funny. A lot of my other friends have told me, “When you get a hit that big, that’s what goes along with it.”
DMJ: You mentioned just briefly that there was litigation there. We don’t necessarily have to go into the details of it, but everybody’s aware that Huey Lewis initiated litigation against you basically saying that key components of his song “I Want a New Drug” was used for your song “Ghostbusters”. We are here all these years later, almost thirty years later, and people say that they can still hear similarities between the two songs. So I have to ask you—I would be remiss if I did not ask you for the record—if any way “Ghostbusters” was inspired by “I Want a New Drug”?
RPJ: Well, first of all, that’s the lawsuit that happened here. There were nine others, by the way.
DMJ: When you say here, you mean here in the States?
RPJ: Yeah, the United States—that was popular in the States; there were several others popular somewhere else. And you have to rephrase it properly: he didn’t really sue me, he sued Columbia Pictures and I was named in the suit, and that’s a big, big, big difference. And so I’m not really allowed to talk about that lawsuit. I don’t think my song sounds anything like that song. If it did, then maybe that song should have sold thirty-five million records. I don’t think it sounds anything like it. But if you look at the song, it says written by me, it’s published by me and everything is still the same as it was when I wrote it, thirty years later. So nothing has changed for me.
DMJ: I know you can’t speak about it in great detail, but can I just ask you: has that all been resolved, legally speaking, with that situation?
RPJ: Legally it was resolved in 1984, I believe. Or ’85. Way back then.
DMJ: I know there was some sort of subsequent litigation between you and Huey Lewis in some way after that initial lawsuit.
RPJ: That I can talk about.
DMJ: Okay, so tell me about that.
RPJ: Well, that lawsuit had a gag rule—nobody was supposed to talk about it. Nobody was supposed to talk about anything that went on with it. For me, I didn’t even know the results of it; I never spoke about it because I don’t even know what it is—my lawyer felt it was a good idea for me to know nothing, then I can’t screw anything up. So in two-thousand… I don’t know, two or three; I forgot what year it was now—the year you’re talking about, he was on TV discussing some of it, so I sued him and I won.
DMJ: Okay, so we’ll leave it there. Because you had gone through that earlier situation with your song being stolen from you, I wanted to ask you what your reaction was when you first heard that you were basically being accused of the same thing?
RPJ: Oh, that’s not the first time I’ve heard that. A couple of other people thought I took their song or whatever, but nothing’s ever transpired of it. And I don’t even think those were the same things, because the Leo Sayer song, I actually went in the studio and put it down. I mean, that’s me playing the guitar, me organizing the band, I wrote it at home… that’s that song. It doesn’t sound like anything else, not even questionably another song—it’s the one I did personally.
DMJ: I wish we had enough time to talk about everybody that you’ve been connected with in the business. As you said, your history included Barry White and Deniece Williams and Miles Davis, so I’m hoping you and I can chat another time and really go in and discuss some of those situations in detail. I don’t want to keep you too long, but before we wrap up, tell me what Ray Parker Jr. is doing today in 2012?
RPJ: Today I’m a little older and a little lazier.
RPJ: I only say that because back in the day, I cut a record every year—a year was a long time to wait. Now I think I’m four, five years out from the last one, but I’m working on one now. But my real focus is working on my two sons, Gibson Parker and Jericho Parker. They’re really talented. My eleven-year-old, Jericho, sings really, really well, so I spend most of my time trying to record him and get some product out. We got three or four things recorded now, we’re going to cut three or four more and release his record this year.
DMJ: So he’s coming out on his own or are the sons coming out as a group?
RPJ: I think they’re coming out as a group. They’re really good.
DMJ: And how old are they?
RPJ: Eleven and thirteen.
DMJ: And I know you were around thirteen when you started gigging and stuff. You don’t have any concerns with them being so young and starting?
RPJ: No, I think the earlier the better.
DMJ: I hear you, I hear you. So let everyone know, is there any way they can stay updated with you and what’s going on with the project with your sons? Is there anyplace online?
RPJ: Yeah, they can check my Facebook page. I also have a rayparkerjr.com page that I’ve been neglecting for a while, but I’m getting ready to update that this year too. Part of my New Year’s resolution—we’re just going to clean up all the old stuff and get it together. I’m cleaning up my house too: closets, old clothes out the closet…
RPJ: Yeah, I want a quarter of an inch between each shirt; I don’t want them all bunched up together anymore. So I’m giving away things… I’m just going to clean up everything. In fact, this year I’m not even trying to buy anything new—I just want to clean up and maintain what I got. But I want everything to get organized this year, so I’m going to organize the website, the Facebook site… all of it. Everything’s getting in order this year.
DMJ: Gotcha. So we look forward to that, especially on the website, because I think that’s still a little bit dated. It has information about your last album.
RPJ: “A little bit”—you’re being kind. “A little bit dated” [laughs]. The last comment on my website showed up like two years ago, so it's like, “What’s he doing?”
DMJ: Well, your last album was what, 2006?
RPJ: Yeah, I’m embarrassed.
DMJ: No, no, no… that’s not really that unusual these days. But do you think that fans can look forward to a new Ray Parker Jr. album any time soon?
RPJ: Well, you know what? I’m actually going to go backwards. I’m going to give them that regular old R&B sound from the eighties. People heard Raphael Saadiq’s last record and everybody thought I was singing on it. I got phone calls from everywhere, everybody swore it was me… except me. One thing I learned from that is, “Okay, this is what they’re expecting to hear. They’ve already heard that; they want to hear this.” So I’m not going to be cutting any hip-hop, I’m not going to be cutting any rock and roll, or any techno-disco… I’m not going to be cutting any of that.
DMJ: Thank you for not doing that.
RPJ: Yeah, right! I’m going to cut what my audience wants to hear, and it’s going to be regular Ray Parker vocals, Raydio style.
DMJ: Well, as they say, everything that is old is new again, so I’m really looking forward to hearing whatever it is that you come out with. Is there anything that you want to mention that we haven’t talked about before we wrap up?
RPJ: No, I think we’re good.
DMJ: Alright, well Ray Parker Jr, again just to remind people, your Unsung episode is coming out on February 13th. And any time that you want to keep us updated on what you’re doing, our doors at SoulMusic.com are open. And I appreciate your time, sir.
RPJ: Okay, thank you.
DMJ: All right, man. Be blessed.
About the Writer
Darnell Meyers-Johnson is a New Jersey based music journalist and creator of The Meyers Music Report (www.TheMeyersMusicReport.Tumblr.com). Previously, he served as Entertainment Editor for the now defunct publication Nubian News and as Editorial Coordinator for SoulMusic.com. When not conducting interviews or writing liner notes, Darnell hosts a weekly radio show, Vocal About Jazz, which streams online every Saturday from 12-2pm, EST on JazzOn2.org and iTunes.