Happy Birthday to Brian Thomas Ray – born January 4, 1955!
Brian Thomas Ray is an American session musician, guitarist, bassist, singer–songwriter and musical director. He is best known for his work as lead, rhythm, and bass guitarist with Sir Paul McCartney, though he has worked with an extensive list of artists in addition to his own solo career.
Brian Ray grew up in Southern California. His first musical performances were in front of his peers – at show and tell – setting his own lyrics to the tune of old folk songs.
By the age of nine, he began playing the guitar. His elder sister Jean (of folk duo Jim and Jean) spurred his interest in rock music through her record collection. Jean invited Brian to play at the LA Troubadour when he was 15 years old. She was “probably the most important and influential person” in Ray’s early life.
In 1973, shortly after graduating from high school, Ray began his musical career as part of Bobby Pickett and the Crypt Kicker Five, playing the “Monster Mash” at a fundraising benefit hosted by and for Phil Kaufman. Kaufman took Ray in and would later introduce him to singer Etta James at a rehearsal for the world-famous Troubadour, just as James was on the brink of a career comeback. That brief introduction would eventually lead to Ray’s 14-year career as Etta James’ musical director and guitarist.
While working for Etta James, Ray also shared stages with musicians such as Keith Richards, Santana, Joe Cocker, Bonnie Raitt, John Lee Hooker and Bo Diddley. At this time he also began focusing more on songwriting. Ray spent the late 1980s collaborating with musicians such as Peter Frampton, Rita Coolidge, Michael Steele (of The Bangles) and Steve LeGassick, who became a songwriting partner for 13 years. It was this songwriting partnership with LeGassick that would create the 1987 Smokey Robinson award-winning hit “One Heartbeat”, which has received over 2,000,000 airplays.
Prior to working with Paul McCartney in 2002, Ray was working on tour in France with two different French artists, Mylène Farmer and Johnny Hallyday. Abe Laboriel Jr., a drummer who had worked with Brian Ray, mentioned that Paul McCartney was in search of a guitarist who could easily switch between guitar and bass guitar. After meeting with McCartney’s producer for Driving Rain, David Kahne, Ray joined Paul McCartney for the pre-game performance of “Freedom” at the NFL’s Super Bowl XXXVI in 2002.
Ray joined the rest of Paul McCartney’s band for the Driving Rain tour in promotion of the album. As of then, he has appeared on McCartney’s solo albums, such as Back in the World, Back in the U.S. and Memory Almost Full, as well as three concert DVDs: Paul McCartney in Red Square, The Space Within US and Good Evening New York City.
In addition to being a session musician, Brian Ray has also contributed to film scores such as the soundtrack to the film Heartbreakers in 1984. In 2002, Ray and Abe Laboriel Jr. composed the score for the independent film The Failures. In 2011, Ray joined with Oliver Leiber to form The Bayonets.