Guitarist Brian Ray’s extraordinary career has been a real-life rock & roll fantasy. Best known as a key member of Paul McCartney’s band for the past 15 years, Brian has the rare distinction of having worked at no other profession but music his entire adult life - and he has played alongside some legendary musicians in the process.
At 17, Brian’s career as a pro musician was set in motion by wildman Phil Kaufman - a tour manager who notoriously stole the body of singer Gram Parsons, then set fire to it in the desert. Though Kaufman had pulled the stunt to honor a pact he made with Parsons, he was nevertheless arrested and heavily fined. Kaufman set up a benefit concert to help cover his body-snatcher expenses, and teenage Brian’s garage band was booked to play “The Monster Mash” at Kaufman’s “Koffin Kaper Koncert.”
Kaufman took young Brian under his wing, and a couple weeks later, while they were at the Troubadour on the Sunset Strip, he introduced Brian to blues singer Etta James, who was then on the verge of a comeback. A few months later, Brian - who remembers being “struck by Etta’s fire and intensity” - signed on as her musical director and guitarist, a position he would hold for 14 years.
During their time together, Brian led Etta’s band at events like the renowned Montreux Jazz Festival (see a clip of them performing “I’d Rather Go Blind” on the Festival’s website here). The two of them also shared a stage with iconic musicians like Van Morrison, John Lee Hooker, and even the Rolling Stones, whom Etta toured with in the Some Girls era.
In 2002, Brian was hired to play one song with Paul McCartney at a Super Bowl pre-game show. That one-song gig never officially ended, and Brian has been a regular member of what has been hailed as “Paul’s best band since the Beatles” ever since. Brian can be heard on three of McCartney’s solo albums, including Chaos and Creation in the Backyard, Memory Almost Full, and New, which went Top 5 in several countries. He has also toured extensively with McCartney playing bass, rhythm guitar, and lead guitar, appearing at historic events like the Queen of England’s Diamond Jubilee; the opening ceremonies of the 2012 Summer Olympics; and the celebrated Desert Trip concert series featuring the Rolling Stones, The Who, Roger Waters, Bob Dylan, and Neil Young. Brian also played with Paul at the White House in 2010 for President Obama when McCartney received the Gershwin Prize for Popular Song.
In addition to his current work with McCartney, Brian is lead vocalist and guitarist in The Bayonets – a rock and roll band he formed with drummer and producer Oliver Leiber, son of R&B songwriter Jerry Leiber of Leiber & Stoller. The two of them began releasing the hook-driven, infectious songs they wrote together as a string of singles, many of which were gathered on their 2014 self-released album, Crash Boom Bang!. That album included appearances from special guests like Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler, and Weezer’s Scott Shriner, as well as vocals from Argentine psych rock singer Lucrecia Lopez Sanz.
Five of The Bayonets’ singles were named “The Coolest Song In The World” by musician and actor Little Steven Van Zandt (Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, The Sopranos), on his internationally syndicated Underground Garage radio show. Two of the band’s singles charted in the Classic Rock Top 10, with a third song reaching #12. An expanded edition of Crash Boom Bang! featuring two new singles is slated for re-release in spring 2017 on Jem Records.
Brian has also released two solo records, Mondo Magneto and This Way Up, both engineered by Joe Zook, who has worked with artists like The Hives and Katy Perry. Brian debuted two new solo singles via Little Steven’s Wicked Cool label in February 2017. One is the original rocker “Here For You” dedicated to his young nephews; the other is a cover of Neil Young’s “Cinnamon Girl.” Brian’s heartfelt performance of “Cinnamon Girl” reveals its sentimental significance to him, as the song had been written about one of his earliest musical inspirations – his older sister Jean, of folk rock duo Jim & Jean, who had been very close to Neil Young.
Gibson Guitars recently honored Brian with a signature guitar, the “Brian Ray ‘63 SG”, which has been played onstage by artists like Angus Young, Rick Nielsen, and Slash.