June 16, 2018 Boo Ray interview
Lately, I’ve been touting the music, and fashion sense, of country music singer/songwriter and recording artist, Boo Ray. His brand of redneck rock and roll music reflects blue collar, hardworking values that lean heavily on his varied experiences. From making his way out of the mountains of North Carolina, to the Sea of Lights in Los Angeles, Boo Ray’s real life experiences, and his nose to the grindstone attitude are what drew me to his music and why I wanted to talk to, and write about him.
Aside from being the embodiment of a blue collar singer songwriter in the tradition of Jerry Reed or Merle Haggard, he’s a traveling troubadour in every sense of the word. His tour schedule is wherever he can get to with a 5 piece band with steel guitar, and a few tanks of gas. He’s covered everywhere from Athens, Ga, Texas, Louisiana, and California. He’s been grinding out a career gig by gig and, in my opinion, with his BooCoo amigos singles, a new album, the One Mic Series, and a team of hardcore ladies scheduling and managing his next steps, Boo Ray is about to pop up on a lot of peoples radar.
I caught up with him on a Saturday afternoon in the middle of getting a PR mailing out of 300, 7” singles and eating a sandwich for lunch. I let him know that I really appreciated him signing the album that I bought the week before, Sea of Lights, and got right into some questions.
First up was about a series of duets that Boo Ray affectionately calls the BooCoo amigos series. I was familiar with the Boo Ray and Lilly Winwood cover of the 1983 “Islands in the Stream”. It’s a fresh take on the Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers classic, and also a reminder of what amazing harmonies come out of country duets. I wanted to know more about what he’s doing now with those and what’s next.
“The first thing, digitally, was Lilly Winwood “Islands in the Stream” cover came out when the Kenny Rodgers tribute came out in Nashville. Then last Christmas I put out “All Strung out Like Christmas Lights”, a Christmas single with Elizabeth Cook. And the next one, I’m sitting here in the middle of a PR mailing, is with celebrity chef Sean Brock…he’s the guy that took Anthony Bourdain to Waffle House here in Nashville. And so we discovered each other really through a hashtag of a tattoo artist we both have in common, an old school Athens Georgia tattoo artist that we both have in common. It turns out that we both did stints in Georgia so we kind of like old school Athens Georgia townies together. So anyway the tattooist is Mitchell Atkinson and was one of these wild rebel characters, he was all the time driving a dune buggy or a monster truck or some kind of crazy ride and you kind of always knew in the back of your mind that he’d die in some kind of hot rod crash, and he did…in a hot rod maverick.”
“Anyway once we got to talking about Mitchell, the tattoo artists, we said well hell, we ought to write a song about that sun of a gun, and so we did. We wrote this song “Saint Misbehavin” and it’s just about tattoos and sort of a running thread of old Athens folk lore and gossip and rumor. That’s the A side single and that came out so we said Hell we need to write the obligatory food song and make a damn package out of it right. So we wrote “Soul Food Cookin’” and its got twin guitar solos…Shawn’s a cool guitar player and so it’s got a bunch of Jerry reed and Allman brother’s kind of twin guitar stuff and stuff.”
I asked about a video I’d just seen on YouTube for the One Mic Series at Sun Studios in Memphis by Recording Engineer John Cuniberti. I wanted to know what they were like and how much he recorded there.
“..It’s a series called the One Mic Series, that guy (John Cuniberti) literally records drums, bass, guitars everything, and vocals, everything with one microphone. He mixes with a damn measuring tape. He’s going and capturing these beautiful studios, these legendary studios, and he’s recording indie artists, and that was a real special experience. I get a kick out of it because he’s the guy that recorded all those fuckin Joe Satriani albums.” He says through a genuine laugh of joy. “Yeah, yeah, which I just think is wonderful cause I grew up on those records man. So it was just amazing. We decided to record 2 songs off a brand new record that’s not out yet. So we recorded 2 songs off of that record and there’s another one of those one mic series that will come out in a month or so.” (Since I spoke with him on the 16th, “Honky Tonk Dream” joined “Don’t Look Back” as the second release from that session.)
I asked Boo Ray if my information was correct that they had tracked Sea of Lights in just a few days. That lead into a somewhat related but different story that was as interesting as the original question, which I love and enjoy when it happens.
“Yeah we tracked in in two days. My buddy and Producer Noah Shain he called me and said I’ve got this old tape machine from Quonset Hut Studio in Nashville, and yeah we tracked that entire album in a couple days.”
“He (Noah Shain) produced 2 tracks that were on my 2010 record Bad News Travels Fast. He produced “Constantina” and “Allez Allez”, which is like a broken French, cajun chorus. “Constantina” is like a Eagles kind of LA, R&B, country, Jackson Brown, uh country esque, even Eddie Rabbit kind of shit.”
“So, In 2010 I got kind of stranded and waylaid in Athens, Ga. At the time I needed a new album real bad you know a $10 item to sell at gigs, so I just compiled all the sessions that I had done over the past 2 or 3 years from LA and Texas and Louisiana and I finished the thing in Atlanta with a hip hop producer just cause I had zero budget. I was livin in a halfway house in Athens Ga, literally, literally 1 block behinds New West Records, not even a full block, across the damn street kitty corner. I released that record, Bad News Travels Fast record out of that halfway house on the halfway house computer and phone line. I’m still rerecording songs off of that record.”
“I’ve released the 2012 record, 6 Weeks in a Motel, that the title track was off of that 2012 record Bad News Travels Fast and of course I rerecorded Bad News Travels Fast for the new record Sea of Lights. I don’t have a song recorded off of that record for the new record but I’ve already got sights on one of the songs I’m gonna record for the next new record off of the Bad News Travels Fast record. Bad News Travels Fast was my first Americana record, it charted on the AMA chart on the Americana Music Association music chart and I released it out of a damn halfway house right behind New West Records.”
When I interview someone like Boo Ray, I kind of felt the need to explain my taste in music and who I consider “country”. There is a great divide between the country music fan listening to today’s “radio hits” and a guy like me that counts Hank Williams, Gram Parsons, and Dough Sahm in the same category as Sturgill Simpson, Blackberry Smoke, and of course Boo Ray.
When I asked him about guys that he’s listening to he says “I’m like you, I listen to Sturgill, Stapleton, and feel like were fighting the same fight, like kindred, like were different sides of the same coin of those guys you know. And Black Berry Smoke too you know, I’d like to play bills with all those guys.”
I mentioned the Hinterland Festival in Charles City Iowa in August where top names like Stugill Simpson, Blackberry Smoke, Margo Price, and Nathaniel Rattliff and The Night Sweats will be performing. It a weird musical situation that newer artists are making more traditional, throwback, music, that are similar to the hits I heard on the radio growing up, but now can’t get any air play.
Of that Boo Ray says “You know that the outlets that carry that music, the Americana radio world and then really one of the biggest purveyors of our style of music is Serious XM Outlaw Country. That’s sort of what I consider my home base they have been playing my record since 2010.”
As a fellow guitar player, I have to ask the obligatory guitar gear questions. When I ask about the guitar he uses with the grafitti tag on it he says that it’a an old Gibson flat top that he hasn’t played in the clubs for about 5 years. “…and the reason being, I kind of gave up playing acoustic instruments in clubs because you just don’t have enough control of the sound. Your basically 100% at the sound man’s mercy. So my rig right now is a 70’s style telecaster with a pair of humbuckers in and I play a resonator, a Washburn resonator. It’s a signature model Richie Owens signature model; he and Washburn gave me that guitar. It’s got electric guitar pickups in it so I can plug it in the same line I plug my telecaster in and I don’t have to change my settings or anything, it just plugs right in. It totally transformed my live show. Cause otherwise if you play an old national you have to have a whole separate guitar rig”
On the subject of the ever fashionable home studio Boo Ray says;
“Yeah, I’m not an engineer-producer, I’m an old-school, I like to work with an engineer. I’ve got a few different engineers that I like and work with around Nashville, and Los Angeles, and Athens Georgia, so no. I track songwriter demos at home but when I’m fixin to record anything beyond a songwriter demo then I, the go to studios I use are Gold Cassette Studio in Nashville and also Welcome to 1979 studio in Nashville, that’s where we recorded the new full length record. That will come out this fall.”
“I can’t say much about it but we just signed a record deal. The new Sean Brock single and the new record are going to come out with a little more horse power, hopefully, behind the release than what were used to you know, so hopefully were going to actually were going to become a little bit visible for a minute.
“I think this new record is, it’s the furthest out I’ve gone. Like, I mean it opens with a damn 6 minute song with a 1 minute fade out. The records pretty out there and its singer songwriter, it’s the most singer songwriter record that I’ve done yet.”
I also wanted to know what the tour schedule is for the rest of the year and if I would be able to catch him locally in Iowa.
“I just got a scattering of dates across the South East right now. I’ve been doing Thursday-Sunday, satelliting within a 5 hour radius or so out of Nashville, 5-7 hours, you know I’ll do Tallahassee and South Georgia but um, I’m just now starting to get into the Midwestern region. I’ve been working Paducah Kentucky a little bit and Bowling Green and I’m gonna get out and do Paint ballroom and I’m going to get out and I’d love to get out your way and, you know cowtownchad’s in Ohio, and (over to) Iowa too.”
“…we’ve just got this new booking agent, we’ve just signed this new record deal so you know hopefully things are gonna take on a new process, it’s all still in the works. The new record company was pretty hot on getting behind the new record and Sean Brock single so I think there’s going to be an announcement made next week.”
“But uh, I’ve never released anything with a full team I’ve had publicists and radio promoters but I’ve never had a booking agent that was working in conjunction with a publicist and a label to hit the markets where were lighting the meter up.”
“I mean we’ve been scrapping man; we’ve been scrapping hard for fuckin 5 years. I’ve played such low quality, shit hole, honky tonks that I’ve had good band members, that I’m paying well, you know were making money, but these places are rough man I mean it’s knife cutting, shooting, kinda bad scenes. I’ve got guys that won’t go down and play those place regardless of what they are paying.”
“That’s been a bit of a wake up call for me in that I was like, you know what, my band mates are right, I shouldn’t have to do this, and my booking agent’s not doing me any favors by doing this to me. So that helped me transform and roll up my sleeves and go to work on my own team, it’s so complex. I’m constantly overwhelmed at the degree of difficulty with the business side of this thing.”
Carving out your place in the music industry while trying to write, play, and juggle the business end as well has to be a daunting task. I expressed that hopefully the new team would help out and alleviate some of those issues.
“Well, our publicist has been with us for over a year and is a wonderful woman. In fact, my whole team, the entire team, the record label, the booking agent, my manager, my publicist is all bad ass women, the whole team, it’s a trip right.”
The damn trip is Boo Ray himself. He’s as real as they come and our conversation was more like friends chatting over some PB&J’s on his porch instead of an “interview”. He finished our conversation by thanking me for writing the article about Ellie Monster and helping get her a little more coverage.
I thanked him for his time and implored him to keep pushing hard and writing his brand of music. It not often that I get to converse with a true country music troubadour so, if I can lend my support by spreading the written word and grab him a few more fans, it will all be worth it to see him keep on putting out new music.
Feature Image photo by Victoria Huff.