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BGS 5+5: Boo Ray

Aug 21, 2018

BGS 5+5: Boo Ray

Name: Boo Ray
Hometown: Western Mountains of North Carolina
Latest album: Sea of Lights
Personal nicknames (or rejected band names): “During the few-years span that I just couldn‚Äôt seem to stay out of jail, the other incarcerated guys that I gambled with on Spades and Tonk called me ‚ÄėBoot-a-rang.‚Äô I didn‚Äôt ever bother to correct ‚Äėem. In grade school, my very first band was also called Rhythm & Booze; it was a 4 piece band and Marshall Tucker‚Äôs ‚ÄúCan‚Äôt You See‚ÄĚ was a feature of our set.”

What other art forms — literature, film, dance, painting, etc — inform your music?

Ahh that’s a cool question… Well, it might could be that Southern writers like Harry Crews, Ron Rash, and¬†Mark Twain make me think it’s important to have a¬†writing¬†voice, and that there’s something powerful and magic about the just¬†right¬†combination of words used to tell the¬†truth of our human experience.

I knew¬†this guy everybody called Mr. Jack¬†that¬†ran a sawmill-‚Äďan old V-Twin Harley motor bolted to a 12″x12″ post frame and a great big¬†15-foot¬†2″ bandsaw blade that¬†pitched and twisted so wildly when it ran that it¬†just seemed impossible it could have ever made a straight cut. But it did cut¬†18-foot-long,¬†perfectly straight slices off the huge¬†logs he used to run through that mill. He’d cut some 1/4″ thin cedar¬†for me to use as lining on chests.¬†The way Mr. Jack¬†cussed at and about his sawmill, the logs, the lumber and his¬†equipment,¬†expressed his¬†passionate care, deep affection, forgiving humor and humble mastery of his industry. I suppose my affection for the way Mr. Jack carried on about his sawmill¬†might be responsible for my cussin’.

My great buddy, artist¬†James Willis, is constantly teaching me about perspective and how to use detail and lack of detail as creative storytelling¬†devices. Sean Brock’s amazing passion, depth of knowledge,¬†agrarian approach, his wood coal cooking and his completely inclusive use of information, style, technique, perspective and¬†philosophy, have certainly influenced me.

If you had to write a mission statement for your career, what would it be?

The point of the spear is compassion,¬†inspiration and empowerment. I’m compelled to express to my fellow man that the troubles of life are not for nothing. The singer-songwriters that have moved me the most write songs that are part of the classic American songbook. So the purpose of my endeavor as a singer-songwriter¬†is to land some songs, or a song, in the classic American songbook, whatever that is. I think that songbook includes songs by Lowell George, Leon Russell, John Hiatt and Fiona Apple.¬†My favorite Grateful Dead record is the one that Lowell George produced, Shakedown Street.¬†The word “Pop” ain’t necessarily blasphemy to me, unless it’s in¬†front of the word¬†“country”…

After writing the songs¬†my mission is to perform the songs with my badass¬†guitar-slingin’ band¬†and build a dynamic, powerful and unique live¬†sound around the character and nature of each of¬†the songs. Live performance is more important to me than recording records, but I use the records as templates, stylistically, and to suggest possible arrangements. For me, the style itself demands that the records are¬†exciting soundscapes, and experimental¬†in the recording and engineering.¬†If my records sound like someone else I’ve fallen short.

For me¬†the singer-songwriter/guitar band-sound¬†bar is set by acts like:¬†Tom Petty and¬†the Heartbreakers,¬†Little Feat, ZZ Top,¬†Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives, any of John Hiatt’s bands (from The Goners and Little Village to his Trio), and¬†Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit. So what’s my mission statement? I want to be Jerry Reed.

BGS 5+5: Boo Ray

Boo Ray & Sean Brock

Which elements of nature do you spend the most time with and how do those impact your work?

I don’t spend enough time on/in the water lately. As a kid, I was at the river every¬†week and in the woods¬†all summer long. Sunrises and sunsets are important to me. I really tried to get up to my buddy Sean Minor’s for spring¬†branding and spend some time roping,¬†riding and working cattle this year, but had shows and sessions I couldn’t get out of. I like to do tractor work, eat homegrown tomatoes, negotiate the price of a late¬†’50s step-side GMC¬†truck or dispute the shape of the taillights on a ‚Äô68 Chevelle while cracking pecans against each other, and get caught in a torrential downpour and soaked to the bone after doing some farm work.

Since food and music go so well together, what is your dream pairing of a meal and a musician?

Agreed, and I totally dig a supper¬†club-type show.¬†How about Sean Brock doing some kind of¬†Low Country spread with Ossabaw pork¬†sock-sausage, rice peas, Geechie Boy Grits with a fresh catch, and some kind summer vegetables, with¬†Billy Gibbons giving his take on Hill Country Blues. Billy and Sean are both¬†great historians, passionate¬†technicians and intuitive as hell. That’d be the dream pairing.

How often do you hide behind a character in a song or use ‚Äúyou‚ÄĚ when it’s actually ‚Äúme‚ÄĚ?

The artists I like definitely seem to have character-driven numbers in their repertoire: Tom Petty’s “Break Down” and “American Girl,” Eddie Rabbitt’s “I Love a Rainy Night,” and¬†Don Williams “Tulsa Time,” written by Danny Flowers.¬†Those kind of songs hold you up as a performer and don’t require you to emote and be so intimate, at least for three or four minutes at a time anyways. Sometimes I might¬†jokingly introduce “Redneck Rock & Roll” as a song that I wrote first-person as Kenny Powers. But I certainly do keep a few of those songs in my set: “I Got the Jug,” “Johnny’s Tavern,” “Six Weeks in¬† Motel”, even “Sea of Lights” is that way now, most of the time. There’ve been a few times that singing “Sea of Lights” made me involuntarily weep and cry…

On the “you”/”me’ thing;¬†I saw this Mary J. Blige performance once, she was singing this devastated lovesick number and my heart was just¬†broken for her, you know? Then in the last chorus, nothing left but ashes and pain, she flips the script on the¬†“you”/”me” switch and¬†starts singing “bye bye” and waving as she left,¬†and I realized she was singing my blues, and she was the one that was leaving. I was leveled. It was like a damned¬†magic trick she’d just¬†performed. I’ve tried variations of that writing device in my songs¬†“Constantina,” “Six Weeks in a Motel,” and the “Hard to Tell” collab with Lilly Winwood all have a moment where they pivot or twist like that a little bit.

Photo of Boo Ray: Courtesy of Sideways Media
Photo of Boo Ray with Sean Brock: Price Harrison

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BGS 5+5: Boo Ray
BGS 5+5: Boo Ray