Ray McCarty – Mood swing
and his six-string Mood Swing
by Paula Edelstein
When Ray McCarty and Russ Ferrante of The Yellowjackets were touring and recording together in Northern California, Ray’s musicality and his ability to play a diversity of styles on his guitar, came together in full view of his musical peers. His playing inspired Russ to exclaim his respect and support for Ray McCarty as a musician and as a man. Thankfully those well-deserved commendations didn’t fall on deaf ears because today, Viewpoint Records of Austin, Texas and Ray McCarty are taking major steps in solidifying a great future and jazz career. MOOD SWING debuted in October 1999 with Ray McCarty on guitar, Kyle Brock and Chris Maresh on bass, Robert Skiles on piano, John Mills on sax, Kevi Conway on drums, James Fenner on percussion and Riley Osborne on keyboards and Hammond B-3 and Wurlitzer. Ray wrote four of the ten songs including the title track, “We’re Still Here,” a swinging blues party, “Verbena Way,” “Tidal Wave,” and one of my favorite sayings, “What’s Up With That?” Ray plays some full-blooded tones and textures on chords that swing, rock, smooth and shoulder the blues with his remarkable array of MOOD SWING.
Although McCarty didn’t seriously consider a career as a musician until his 20s, his early guitar influences, B.B. King and Jimi Hendrix had an impact on the young McCarty. Today, he’s more influenced by pianists Herbie Hancock, the mantras of soul-jazzer Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder and sax players like John Coltrane and the bright trumpet of Lee Morgan. MOOD SWING captures the essence of those influential mentors and will no doubt establish a loyal fan base for Ray McCarty.
In an interview for JazzUSA, we talked to Ray about his new career at Viewpoint Records and his debut MOOD SWING.
JAZZUSA: Hello Ray, Congratulations on MOOD SWING and your new deal at VIEWPOINT RECORDS. Thank you very much for the interview.
RM: Hello. Glad to be here!!
JAZZUSA: This must be quite an exciting time for you especially with the launch of VIEWPOINT RECORDS and your debut, MOOD SWING. The music industry is a challenge and has inspired many a change in ambitious persons. I’m sure it’s been worth the wait to find a groovy home for your musical talent. How did your association with Viewpoint Records happen? (Please don’t think I’m prying…just for openers something like, I was walking my dog and ran into the president or he heard me play…something like that. Nothing personal!!)
RM: This all began with a recommendation to Viewpoint by a mutual friend in the music industry. I was hired to work on pre-production planning with a great blues singer who used to work with Frank Zappa. We had jammed together on a couple of tunes for the label owner, but then the product was put on hold because of scheduling conflicts with the singer. VIEWPOINT liked my work and asked me to consider an instrumental project of my own. They brought in Kevin Conway on drums and Kyle Brock on bass to work up the first three tunes as a trial balloon. We all had a great time and VIEWPOINT liked the direction we had taken. They gave the go ahead for the rest of the album and added several more really find players plus engineering and producing talent to wrap up the CD.
JAZZUSA: MOOD SWING is ripe for the many marketing techniques available to musicians as a result of the Internet having drastically altered the landscape. No chance for getting lost in the exhaust fumes because of the fanbase that exists as a result of a few of the covers you do, especially Herbie Hancock’s “Watermelon Man.” Did you compose the four originals on guitar or do you write on the piano?
RM: I wrote them on guitar. But a lot of my early influence was Ray Charles. I adopted those type of piano comp styles and voicings. I guess I am an unusual guitar player because I don’t listen much to guitar players, I just happen to be one who hears piano lines I guess….When I first started to play, I would play the other instrumental parts like horns and strings, like the whole Motown arrangement of The Supremes. I really liked all the gospel, bluesy, chord, vocal stuff. During the time when most guitar players were learning Clapton and Hendrix licks, I was into transposing the complex R&B arrangements onto guitar to learn those colorful chord voicings with third and fifths in the bass, etc. I came out of a totally different schooling. I always looked at rhythm playing as a real challenge, and I played like a piano player would comp. I guess that’s why I’ve been told my playing is pretty unique.
JAZZUSA: Many artists have a favorite studio for recording in order to get just the right MOOD SWING. What is the ambiance like in Two Coves Studios?
RM: Relaxed, inspiring….It’s not sterile like most studio cubicles are…. There are big windows and great views overlooking all of Austin. At other studios, it’s hard to remember you are playing music when you have headphones on and are in a cinderblock bunker out of sight of the other musicians. I guess the “live” gig feel is lost, and I love to play “live.” When we were cutting the last two tunes, “Tidal Wave” and “We’re Still Here,” I was sick as a dog, but I was still having fun with all the guys. The overall vibe was happening and we were all flying. I thought the day was going to be a write-off. I couldn’t believe we could get anything down, but on playback the stuff was great. It was a good session despite my feeling awful physically. Also early in the project, the label owner did most of the engineering, so it was often just us. He was very supportive and encouraging on a one-on-one basis, so the project got off to a great start. Usually you have to have a whole crew, and that somehow takes away the personal connection and the fun. Since the studio is nearly dedicated to VIEWPOINT artists, there is also the feeling of unlimited time to work — not the normal “clock is running and we have to produce” thing in your head. Technically the facility is tops with all the great vintage gear along with the best modern stuff, too. You really just feel like you can get on tape anything you hear in your head.
JAZZUSA: Why did you settle on a solo career as opposed to playing in a group?
RM: I wanted to see what I could do on my own. While I’ve enjoyed playing in groups, as I do even now, I had a lot of ideas that were forming over the years, and I felt it was time to give them a try. VIEWPOINT let me do just that. The result is MOOD SWING, and I’m really proud of it. While a lot of talented people helped me out in a number of important ways, I still think it came together pretty much as I heard it in my head.
JAZZUSA: What are some of the peculiarities of establishing a personal style and sound that you’ve run across during your musical career and when fleshing out ideas?
RM: Back when I wasn’t even considering jazz, I was a rock and roll, R&B player!! But because of my learning guitar from orchestral arrangements, I had a broad foundation that went beyond R&B forms. After doing R&B and Rock for years, it was a kind of natural evolution to want to explore new forms. I found jazz was different and challenging, and I liked to include jazz modes in my natural playing style.
JAZZUSA: MOOD SWING is a great metaphor for the CD as well as the feeling the listener gets when getting into it. The contrast from “Tidal Wave,” to “Mr. Magic” is a prime example of this “mood swing.” Did you sequence the songs this way in order to impact your listeners with a wide array of moods?
RM: We talked about my learning from arrangements instead of typical solo lines. That formed a lot of what is unique in my comping style. Also, when I was playing with Albert Collins, I saw first-hand how he had that special attack and unusual sound!! That inspired me to pursue more of my solo style development. One added part of my sound is that I use big strings and a heavy pick and try to beat my guitar into submission!! That aggressive technique results in a lot of harmonic overtones which provide most of the unusual color in my playing.
JAZZUSA: MOOD SWING is a great metaphor for the CD as well as the feelings the listener gets when getting into it. The contrast from “Tidal Wave” to “Mr. Magic” is a prime example of this “mood swing.” Did you sequence the songs this way in order to impact your listeners with a wide array of moods?
RM: Absolutely. We tried a number of sequences and felt the one on the CD was closest to the overall feeling I wanted to create for the listener.
JAZZUSA: Has living in the Southwest rooted you more in a “blues flavored jazz” as opposed to a West Coast jazz sound?
RM: I really played that way before I got here. However, being in Austin, I play a lot more blues than before. That influenced my selection of tunes and the arrangement approach. For instance, I would probably not have chosen a “shuffle,” but it worked with the other tunes and I liked the way it got to tape. I have to recognize that I owe it to Austin and to Texas for getting my blues chops to really came together since I’ve been here.
JAZZUSA: Any tours or webcasts in the near future?
RM: I think webcasts are an exciting new venue for live performance which I love to do. We are looking at webcast schedules and working up a number of tour plans, but since I have to leave for a short tour early tomorrow morning, I am trying to forget about that for a moment!!!!
JAZZUSA: Thanks for the great interview Ray. Congratulations on MOOD SWING and good luck with the tour. – Paula Edelstein, JAZZUSA