One of the biggest records of 1978 belongs to a new group known simply as Raydio. With "Jack & Jill" topping charts across both sides of the Atlantic, B&S took time out to rap with the mentor of the group, Mr. Ray Parker Jr. David Nathan reports….
CLEARLY one of the biggest records to create chart activity on both sides of the Atlantic this year belongs fairly and squarely to Raydio with "Jack And Jill". On first hearing, you might assume it's just another novelty record but this ingenious ditty has obviously hit the mark with quite a few folk, especially since Raydio's debut Arista album is on the verge of going gold.
The main man behind the whole group is one, Mr. Ray Parker Jr. Originally from Detroit, Michigan, Ray's name may not be familiar to you but his guitar playing most certainly will be! He has played on countless sessions over the last few years, adding his own special style to the likes of sessions with Patti Labelle, Boz Scaggs, Barry White and Bobby Womack — and that's just a very small percentage of the number of artists who have benefitted from Ray's expert finger-licking!
Ray has been involved with music since his early teens (he's in his early twenties now) and he recalls that his first venture into the field was "with a group we had back in Detroit — The Dynasonics. But nothing really happened much with them.
"Through persistence, at the tender age of 15, Ray found himself working on sessions for Invictus and Hot Wax and recalls that his very first session for them was for 100 Proof on "Everything Good Is Bad".
"That happened because I just kept hanging out at the studio and they kept kicking me out! Fortunately, one day, their guitarist didn't show for the session so they decided to give me a shot. But that didn't open the doors — I still had a lot of convincing to do."
Prior to that, Ray had worked on a Marvin Gaye session from which came the single, "You're The Man". "We actually did a whole album but it's still in the can at Motown. Working with Marvin was a real big deal for me because it lent some credence to my ability, as you can imagine."
It seems that alongside Michael Henderson, Ollie Brown and Hamilton Bohannon, Ray had already built up an enviable reputation as back-up musician at one of Detroit's biggest night club venues, The 20 Grand, where acts such as Gladys Knight, The Temptations, The Spinners and Stevie Wonder appeared.
It therefore came as no surprise that within a certain period of time, Mr. Parker became a much sought after guitarist although he notes "I still had to really sell myself to people — you know, like check people out and say 'hey, have you heard about this guitarist Ray Parker? He's the greatest!' without them even knowing it was me! Because when it comes down to it, it's word of mouth that gets you that kind of regular session work.
"Anyone in possession of any of the Freda Payne, Laura Lee, Chairmen of the Board or Honeycone records will attest to Mr. Parker's musical talents because he was the featured session player on all the material those acts cut for Invictus and Hot Wax before the companies' demise.
It was due to such 'word of mouth' activity that one day, Ray's phone rang and at the other end of the line was none other than Stevie Wonder, much to Ray's disbelief.
"Frankly, I didn't believe it was really Stevie. He'd called to ask me to play in his group — this was 1972 and he was going on the road with The Rolling Stones' tour. Anyway, I just hung up the phone because I thought it was someone playing around. So he called me back and said 'hey, this is Stevie Wonder' and the only way he could convince me was by playing and singing "Superstition" on the phone!
"He offered me around $600 or $700 a week to go out with him and I still wasn't sure because I felt like I was already making enough money by just being home doing sessions — so who needed to go out there and work that hard.
"Fortunately, Mr. Parker decided to accept the opportunity. "I was about 17 years old and I spent about a year out with Stevie — we did the sessions for "Talking Book" and "Innervisions" and we really hung out together when we weren't working — I mean we really became good friends, just out there together.
"I stayed a year and then it was time to quit. I just felt like I wanted my freedom — I could see what Stevie was doing, what he could do and I wanted to do it for myself too."
In consequence, Ray returned to Detroit "where there really was nothing happening — Motown had gone out west to L.A. and Invictus had fallen apart. So I figured, hey, I might as well go out to L.A." Ray bought himself a big gold Lincoln cadillac, packed some clothes and speakers and stuff and drove the 2,500 miles out to California.
"I couldn't really stop except for gas and other essentials — so by the time I got there — it took about one and three-quarter days! — everything had lost colour, all I could see was black and white, really!"
Having recovered from that condition, Mr. Parker set about establishing his name in Los Angeles. "And it was real hard because no one had ever heard of those people in Detroit — they really didn't care that I'd worked with this one or that one! So I found an apartment, stayed in there for a few days by myself and remembered Gene Page.
"I think I'd been on a Dionne Warwick session with him and he really didn't know me at all. But I went down to the Record Plant (one of L.A.'s biggest studios) and just hung out there till eventually he came there to record something. Well, I acted as if he should really know me from all the sessions we'd done together — which really wasn't true! — and we stayed in touch. In fact, within a week, I was doing sessions for him."
Ray recalls that one of the first was for Leon Haywood — "I Wanna Do Something Freaky To You" and he notes: "Somehow I pulled it off — because I really couldn't read all that complicated music Gene had written and I think he knew it too!"
However, Ray soon found himself doing sessions on a fairly regular basis — "I did something too for "Uptown Saturday Night" as an actor and as a result met Bill Cosby and through him, I ended up doing a few soundtrack sessions."
One of Ray's biggest breaks came when Rufus and Chaka Khan recorded one of his compositions. "I'd been trying to get people interested in my songs everywhere and no one wanted to know. I'd tell them I was a big publisher from out of town so that I could get to see people but it didn't make any difference. Anyway, Chaka was staying at this same hotel where I was — and Rufus was really not doing anything at this point — and she remembered me from when she'd been to see Stevie in Chicago and she'd tried to get me interested in her singing.!
"Anyway, I gave the group "You Got The Love" even though I really wanted a big group to record the song and at the time, Rufus just weren't. So it looked like I had the strongest song on the album and here comes Stevie Wonder with "Tell Me Something Good" and boom, my song has to take second place."
Certainly having his name on the record helped because "You Got The Love" turned out to be a big hit for Rufus and enabled Ray to "walk right into Barry White's office — we'd done some sessions together, since I played on a lot of his big hits as well as the Love Unlimited sides — and point out to him that my song was just above his song on the charts and that he should listen to some of my material for himself."
Barry picked "Always Thinking Of You" which came out on the "White Gold" album by the Love Unlimited Orchestra and "we even wrote a tune together — "You See The Trouble With Me" — which did well in England, I understand."
Ray went on to become one of the biggest paid sessions guitarists in L.A. "I was just doing sessions every day and I got kinda ridiculous — I started charging people nearly five times the going rate!
"But although I was getting the work, I wasn't getting the respect from people in the industry. I wasn't invited to the press things, to the Grammies for instance, when I had a song on Herbie Hancock, "Keep On Doin' It" that was nominated, I wasn't invited. So I got kinda mad and decided maybe the way out was to do something myself — like an album on myself."
It seems that a number of record companies had already approached Ray about doing an album "but it wasn't the right situation. But, through a friend, I met Clive Davis from Arista and he sat with me for three or four hours and we rapped. He understood where I was coming from, what I wanted from a record deal, the kind of support I needed. And this was all without him having heard a single piece of product from me!"
Evidently, Mr. Davis' intuition was at work because a deal was set and Ray began work on an album — at his own studios in his own home!
"I'd built my own studios in my house because it made things so much more convenient. I told Clive and he didn't mind — he said just go right ahead.
"Now the song "Jack And Jill" had actually been given to Diana Ross to record originally and she was definitely set to do it. But when my deal came through with Arista, I took it back because I wanted it for myself." Which was just as well because as soon as it was released in the winter months, it immediately took off.
"I guess between June and November, I looked around for musicians to build the group around, although I actually played most of the instruments and did vocals on the album." Ray found the right kind of guys in Arnell Carmichael, Jerry Knight, Vincent Bonham, Charles Fairing and Larry Tolbert and thus Raydio was born.
Ray notes: "When I was doing the album, I set out to do a whole album full of singles. I'm not entirely surprised at the kind of success that we've had with either the single or the album because I didn't expect anything less from Clive or from Arista. There has to be real commitment from a company — and that seems to have happened."
As far as the actual lyrical content of the album is concerned (Ray wrote all the tunes himself with the exception of one which he co-wrote), Ray is quite up front. "Yes, the album does deal with a love theme and that consistency was intentional. But it's been real funny the way some of the ladies have reacted to some of the songs — like "You Need This To Satisfy That" and "Me" — which says I got something good for you — me!' Like they really want to know if what I'm saying is true — you know, am I really that slick?!"
Ray admits to having employed some serious psychology in his lyrics and he feels that "ladies in particular seem to really dig deep into lyrics — they'll even turn off a singer if they don't like his lyrical content, what he's saying. Guys seem to be more into the rhythm thing to begin with."
Both guys and gals seem to have gotten into Raydio's debut album and the group's recent tour with Bootsy Collins has certainly won them many new fans and rave reviews. Right now, Ray and the group are real happy to be doing work on the road.
"It's a whole lot of fun meeting people, being in different places all the time. But we do have a lot of serious goals. I'd like to produce some other acts maybe at some point in time and get into movies — both writing soundtracks and acting. I just want to see the group go on up to infinity — I don't want to put any limits on us."
Ray says that aside from doing an album with Raydio, he may well also do a solo album "of just some real mellow songs" but either way. "Raydio is going to be my main concentration."
There are certainly more than a few folk around who are more than happy to be turning on and tuning in to the funky sounds of Raydio and we predict that with a talented young man like Ray Parker Jr. at the helm, it's going to be like that for some time to come.
About the Writer
David Nathan is the founder and CEO of SoulMusic.com and began his writing career in 1965; beginning in 1967, he was a regular contributor to Blues & Soul magazine in London before relocating to the U.S. in 1975 where he served as U.S. editor for the publication for several decades and began being known as 'The British Ambassador Of Soul.' From 1988 to 2004, he wrote prolifically for Billboard, has penned bios, produced and written liner notes for box sets and reissue CDs for over a thousand projects. He returned to London in 2009 where he has helped create SoulMusic.com Records as a leading reissue label.