The Twang of Jeff Ray
This Friday evening at Fitger’s Brewhouse, and next Friday evening at Sir Benedict’s Tavern, Jeff Ray will be resonating and sliding in songs off his new album Last Great Winter.
Ray’s last album, June Generation, was an excellent mix of styles and instruments that resembled so much you may have heard before, yet it became something very unique in its own right. Last Great Winter is an entirely new journey for Ray, but still highlights his solid musicianship.
“Last Great Winter is a complete departure from June Generation in that it's almost entirely live material,” Ray said. “On June Generation I recorded playing a Hammond organ, drums, guitars, vocals, and percussion all by myself, layering every instrument one by one. Last Great Winter is my first attempt at trying to record an album that sounds almost exactly like a live show, but also maintains the album or "story" feel to it.”
Ray has decided to follow past storytellers like Bob Dylan and dustbowl poet Woody Guthrie by doing his own renditions of “Maggie’s Farm” and “This Land Is Your Land” on Last Great Winter. Like Jimi Hendrix, The Byrds, and many others he puts his own spin on the classic tunes.
“I think it's great and I have no problem with folks covering one artist or a few artists many times,” Ray said. “I think the important thing is whether they cover the artist in an attempt to "copy" the artist in a non-creative way, or if they add something to the song like they're own interpretation. The Byrds covered Dylan almost exclusively but they remain an important fixture in music history because they were creative and respectful. I would rather hear a cover that is entirely different from the original with creative license taken, rather than something that just tries to recreate a moment that once existed. Joel Mabus, a solo artist from Michigan, talks about the life cycle of a song... that songs die and eventually lose their meaning until someone comes along and re-relates the song back to Modern life.”
Like many other musicians today, Ray continues to carry the torch for folk music into the next generation. For him it is a journey that began in the capital of the blues, Tennessee.
“I was drawn to folk music when I was exposed to Nick Drake while living in Memphis from 1995 to 1998,” Ray said. “I slowly started to realize the common roots that Drake and my previous blues influences (Muddy Waters, Bobby Bland, etc.) all shared; acoustic and delta blues.”
Robby Krieger of The Doors was once labeled the first guitar player to integrate the slide into rock and roll. He later admitted that Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones was the first one he heard. Back then to play a slide you had to literally break a bottle to create one, today you can go to any local music store and purchase one. Jeff Ray has his own influences though.
“Duane Allman is my primary influence, but I really improved after watching Derek Trucks play live in Madison, Wisconsin in 2000,” Ray said. “Later I found some video of Duane, and was able to get more ideas from that stuff. I'm sort of an electric guitarist who plays the acoustic slide-guitar.”
One noticeable distinction between Ray and other folkies is that he plays a lot of slide guitar on an acoustic resonator. An acoustic resonator is instantly recognizable by its look and sound. However, they are not played as often today as they were before the electric guitar came around.
“The resonator has allowed me to comfortably transition from playing electric slide-guitar to acoustic slide-guitar,” Ray said. “The big difference between the two is that the sustain is much better on a resonator than an electric. The resonator gives me the ability to focus on the overtones in my music too. The electric guitar traditionally responds better, but the resonator is a totally different monster. It is so dynamic and sounds like two or three guitars in one, depending on how you play it.”
Ray sees that Duluth has a healthy abundance of bands playing folk music today, but he believes that he has something completely unique to add to the local sound.
“I think Duluth is probably the BEST larger Minnesota city for folk music,” Ray said. “I've also had a great response from people in Rochester too. I think the larger towns like Minneapolis and St Paul are great, but people are quite rushed there, sometimes impatient, and there's a bias I sometimes sense from people in favor of other types of bands. That's one of the biases I'd like to destroy. People have an image of a boring, chord strummin', self-absorbed songwriter when they hear "folk", and I think it doesn't have to be that way. I do think the minimalist methods of entertainment have a harder time breaking through when there are so many live music options.”
So being a big fan of the Northland’s Bob Dylan, what is Ray’s favorite Dylan tune?
“I've been listening to Dylan for years and my favorite song changes depending on my mood,” Ray said. “I think "Moonlight" and "High Water (for Charlie Patton)", both from Love and Theft, are amazing songs. I also love "Shelter from the Storm" (Blood on the Tracks) and everything off of "The Times They Are-A-Changin'"
Like the songs and instruments he plays, Jeff Ray is a throwback to a previous era and a breath of fresh air for folk music in Minnesota. To hear a few songs before the show go to www.jeffraymusic.com.