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Hank Ray : Interview [Part 1]

In advance of the release of Sinister Funtime, Hank Ray talks (at length) about music, The Cramps, labels and lyrics

Sinister FUntime

[dropcap style=”font-size:100px; color:#992211;”]S[/dropcap]itting on the front porch on a balmy Memphis evening with a glass of fine Bourbon in my hand, the scent of warm cut grass on the breeze and Little Jimmy Scott echoing from the stereo is pretty damned close to heaven.

To be truthful to y’all, I was trying to piece my head back together after listening to a preview of Hank Ray and The Raymen’s latest album, Sinister Funtime. Having read the recent reviews I just had to have me a listen. I tell you something… it sure twisted my gourd.

With so little information available on the man, I deemed it necessary to track down the unique talent that is Hank Ray immediately to answer a few important questions.

He was found languishing in Berlin, snakeskin boots and all. Be prepared for an education.

So, Hank Ray. This is an absolute pleasure but where the hell did you come from and what first took you into music?

Hey, Jon, here’s a little anecdote to kick this whole thing off: when I was just about a boy of 4, my grandma then predicted that I would either become a pastor or a professional musician. So not such a bad guess from my soothsayer granny here, eh?hnak ray

Born back in early 60’s I was raised on diet of Country & Western / Hillbilly (Dad’s influence), Elvis / Rock’n’Roll / Sixties Pop (Mom’s influence) plus the sounds that came out on the radio waves way back in those days.

Well, according to my Mom, I started out singing just around the same time that I began to talk – in private and before people, you know like at family events, on buses and other public transportation.

No joke! I would walk into some place, somebody would say, “Hey, buddy, come on sing!” and would just kick it off immediately. No matter how many people were there. Well, this ‘public singing career’ ended almost immediately when I joined elementary school.

Bang! Over!

From one day to the other I was feeling kinda embarrassed to stand in front of people and sing!!

Then as a teen I was totally addicted to Glam and later 70’s Progressive – CCR, T. Rex, David Bowie, Beach Boys, Glen Campbell, Sweet, Kiss, Gary Glitter, Bay City Rollers, Queen, Yes, Genesis, Pink Floyd etc…

Yeah, and then later New York / American & English Punk rock, of course! New York Dolls, Suicide/Alan Vega, Blondie, Television, Ramones, Vibrators, Damned, Sex Pistols, Clash, Magazine … you name ‘em.

After a 9 year hiatus I coincidentally got back to singing again in 1979 at the age 15 when some friends and I decided to form a band in the aftermath of Punk and everybody involved had some kind of instrument and more or less elaborate skills to handle it, except for one person. Well, guess who?

So, if I wanted to be in the band, I had to be the vocalist. And I d-e-f-i-n-i-t-e-l-y wanted to be in that band, so I took the job.
Luckily enough I finally managed to borrow an old banged-up electric organ, but had to stick with vocal duties anyway since nobody else wanted to do them.

So here’s little ole me running the organ through a guitar amplifier trying to make it  sound like John Cale’s on White Light/White Heat while screaming “Just like Sister Ray says / sucking on my ding-dong, uh-huh, uh-huh” over and over till I got blue in the face. Hahaha! And I do mean screaming!

Well, those were the days!

Still remember the raised eyebrows and jaws a-dropping when we’d start to do our infamous ‘Can’t Seem to Make You Mine / Sister Ray / I Heard Her Call My Name’ 40 minutes-plus marathon, or the sad look on our principal’s face (we were practicing in the music room of our high school right on top of the building, which gave us a pretty good deal of radiation across the area) when he had to inform us that we had to turn down the volume because a lady, who lived about a mile away, had threatened to call the cops because her old man had nearly suffered from a heart attack because of the constant noise.

Well, the original gang didn’t even have a real name at the beginning, at least not as far as I remember, but after some line-up shifts the remaining bunch took the name of The Garbage Groupies sometime in 1980 and again after some more line-up changes became The Raymen in 1983.
By the way, I picked up the name from 30’s horror flick The Invisible Ray starring Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi – two of my all time fave actors. First idea was to go by name The Invisible Raymen, but then we cut it down to The Raymen for more catchiness totally unaware that the original Linkster had had a band of the same name in the late 50’s and 60’s.

Ah, Link Wray, the godfather of the power chord, the original rumble. Can you describe Hank Ray in two or three sentences?

Spiritual atheist/lifetime promoter of individualism and independent thinking, denying stupid Nazi / KKK / religious right-wing scum and all the other kinds of prejudiced, hate-mongering pricks!!

My motto: You live your life, I live mine. You cool, me cool!

The tedious Cramps tag thing needs addressing. Anyone sifting through his or her Hank Ray research will find the “Cramps wannabe band” statement flashing up. There are a few bands I can think of that fit that tag a treat but not yours. Surely this is annoying for you?

Yeah, sometimes we felt like we were being treated a little unfair in those early days. And I’m speaking about the media here, not the fans.

Okay, The Cramps may have been the major influence in the formative days, but there were other influences as well, like Alan Vega, a great hero of mine and even as influential on the fledging Raymen as the Cramps. The song ‘Desert Drive’, to name but one, is strongly inspired by Alan’s ‘Ghost Rider’ and ‘Bye Bye Bayou’.

Then there was a good deal of Ramones, Dead Kennedys, Suicide, Alex Chilton, Flesh Eaters, Gun Club, Iggy, Elvis & Velvets in the gene pool as well, so being pigeonholed as ‘you-know-who’ copycats was kind of annoying. But hey, that’s long gone.
These days the comparison hardly ever pops up and if, well, personally I don’t care.

I think it’s very clear from your melting pot of sound that The Raymen are far from being a ‘Cramps wannabe band’. You stated the early influence The Cramps had on you. Can you break it all down and sum up that influence for us here?

Well, Jon, here’s what I wrote in the liner notes for Cramps tribute Cramped that came out on Raucous Recs. in 2011.
Think this piece catches my thoughts and the atmosphere pretty well, so I quote from here if you don’t mind:

The Cramps: Glottal Stops from the Halls of Hades

“Well, I just can’t identify with this world so I don’t try/ square pegs don’t fit round holes like I can’t fit into these clothes…”
Did these immortal words of wisdom hit the nail on the head – and I do mean, straight on the head – for a 17 year old teenager in 1980?
Absolutely, brothers ‘n’ sisters, 100 percent… and in many ways, this still is my favorite Cramps couplet.
Like most of you guys – otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this burp anyhow – I have a very vivid recollection of the day I first entered the illicit, twisted ‘n’ tempting twilight zone of the Cramps.
As for me, it was in the Summer of 1980 when – incited by a rave article in a music paper about the latest, cool New York outfit, blending 50’s Rockabilly and 60’s Garage with Punk (it just sounded cool to me, back then I didn’t have a clue what Rockabilly or Garage was, actually!) – I went to my local record store and got me copies of “Songs The Lord Taught Us” and “Gravest Hits.”
Well, I put on the first side of “Gravest Hits” and then…
This was all different from anything I had heard before!
A weird Al Casey-tremolo meets an over-dosed blitzkrieg-fuzz with Mr. Interior popping the plosives and pulling the glottal stops with 100% true-to-Charlie-Feathers’-sincerity on top of this sonic boom, “Well, I’m a human fly……………….buuuuuuuuuuuuuuzzzzzzzzz, buuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuzzzzzzzzzzz…………..buuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuzzzzzzzzzzzzz!!!!!!!!!!”
But, hold it, friends ‘n’ neighbors, hold it for a minute!!!
Before we’re getting carried away by sheer enthusiasm a little too far here, I would wish to make a few things clear!
I’m writing this shish-kebab in December 2009, almost 30 years after the said event and 10 months after Lux Interior’s sad, untimely passing on February 4th, 2009.
Back in them biblin’ days – the dawning of the 80’s – the use of “tremolo” AND “fuzz” was by any means the most common combination of guitar sounds what-so-ever!!!
I mean, for a kid like me – raised on Glam, Progressive Rock and Punk in the 70’s, THIS was something totally new and strange; the Cramps were like invaders from outer space;  creatures from another planet.
They were UN-BE-LIEVE-ABLE!!!
I remember playing Human Fly at least five times in a row without even listening to any other track on the record, just because I couldn’t believe what was going on there!!
Okay, Chris Spedding had used tremolo on his ’75 hit “Motorbikin’” – the very first time, I became aware of the existence of – what??? – TREMOLO??????
Hendrix, Stones and other “old” bands had used fuzz back in the 60’s, but THIS HERE…NO FUCKIN’ WAY!!!
Just didn’t compare to anything that’s been heard before.
And we’re talking about the year 1980 here, cats!!!
A time when “Trash / Rawk-a-Billy gods” like The Phantom, Ronnie Dawson, Hasil Adkins, Herbie Duncan – just to name a few (no offense to anyone left out here, please!) and garage–icons like the Sonics, the Riptides, the Groupies, etc. were total – and I do mean total & complete – unknowns to at least 99.99999999873 % of whole mankind, including myself.
Okay, okay!
Do I hear some clever comments from the back rows of the auditorium here?
Yep, Lester, Lenny and a handful of other record collector-geeks / stone-age record reviewers – yes, they did know, of course – but I’m talking about the excitement and the enthusiasm of discovering a new world here, so these old guys don’t mean shit here, ye know!!
Remember, this was the time, babes, when a genre called “Psycho-Billy” was a chicken yet to be hatched.
Well, time has passed on!
The 17 year old kid that got blown away by “Human Fly” in 1980 is a little older now and the music world has changed, but the impact of the first time the needle hit the grooves of “Gravest Hits” still remains.
The Cramps opened up the whole can of worms – the Pandora’s Box of 50’s Sci-Fi / Trash-Rock’n’Roll and 60’s Garage!
Not only were they making the raunchiest, funniest, most exciting and most beautiful noise of their time and thus stand there on top of Americana along with the Velvets, the Stooges and the Ramones, but they also inspired generations of bands to come and lured “soon-to-a-be vinyl hunters” – like myself – to search for unknown treasures hidden beyond the mysterious valleys of Elvis, Bo & Jerry Lee.
I could go on for hours on this, guys, but I think it’s time to call it off here…
So dig this comp for what it is!
THE CRAMPS – my number one combo of the past 30 years.

Phew!! I’ve not actually read those liner notes before. You have dedicated a song to Lux on the new album. With the fourth anniversary of his death just gone, what is your own enduring memory of Lux Interior?

I remember receiving an email from a friend who had seen a news clip about Lux’s passing pretty early in the morning hours on February 5th, 2009. That blew me over completely. I just couldn’t believe it. Rudi (Protrudi) showed up around noon and when he got the news he was devastated as well. So instead of working on some music stuff we spent most of the day drinking beers and playing Cramps.

When he left in the evening hours and I sat down with my guitar and wrote ‘Long Tall Shadow with Fire Eyes’. More as a personal goodbye, rather than something I wanted to put out on record.Hank Ray and the Raymen

I did the same thing the day Joey died. But unlike ‘Shadow’, my song for Joey called ‘Joey’s Not Coming Home Anymore’ never got past the demo stage, though some friends who heard it and found it beautifully haunting suggested we should record it for an album. Don’t really recall why that hasn’t happened yet.

Anyhow, back to ‘Long Tall Shadow’. The guys who owns Hound Gawd Records is the No. 1 freaky collector geek among all freaky Cramps collectors I’ve ever met (and I’ve met a few). This guy has every pressing of every Cramps single and album EVER released – unbelievable – maybe 250 – 300 albums and about a shoebox full of 7 inchers.

Well, easy to see now why the track appeared on the ‘Death’s Black Train’ EP.

I’d sure like to hear that tribute to Joey Ramone. There are various tags that people like to put on the type of music you are putting out. Obviously back in the 1980’s Psycho Rockabilly (Psychobilly) came to be born and in a way that label has followed you around like a hard to shake little lost puppy dog. Garage, Voodoo Rockabilly, Death Country, Psycho Rockabilly, what do you think about those labels? Does anything really fit with what you are doing?

Yeah, they’re all kind of cool. Though I prefer the funkier tags like Psychotic Voodoo Deathabilly, Mojo Psycho Country or Glam Trash Americana.

In the end it’s just giving people a rough idea of what’s inside the can, right?! Being fair to the guy looking for the latest REO Speedwagon / Kansas great-grandchild:
“Beware – approach with caution! Anti -AOR inside!”

So The Raymen’s Deathtrashvoodooglampsychomojobilly sound has obviously moved on a step or two from the basics of Psycho Rockabilly, like a few other bands and artists who have dared explore the bigger picture to evolve into different creatures. What bizarre processes brought your music from its beginning to how it sounds today?

Oh boy, that’s a good one. Hope you guys are in for a little musicologist’s trip here. If not, simply skip the next 15,000 words, hahaha!

Well, the range of influences has grown – maybe not with each and every album – but with every incarnation of the band. That’s maybe best the way to describe it.

The first three albums Going Down To Death Valley (1985), Desert Drive (1986) and From The Trashcan To The Ballroom (1987) were mainly influenced by the same things, namely 50’s Trash Punkabilly, 60’s Garage, and a dose of Country & Western plus the obvious overdrive Cramps / Gun Club / Alan Vega / Alex Chilton / Ramones / Dead Kennedys, etc as stated above.

Although ‘Desert Drive’ was a lot more punk than the first and third album they’re all more or less composed of the same ingredients.

Billion Sellers (1990) had a stronger influence of Glam and 60’s Freak-Out / Psychedelia with a touch of the Blues, which was partly due to the new line-up. The bass player named himself, B.B. Rabozo, after a character in a Zappa song and I dubbed the drummer, Veg Bananae Stopsign Mawrawsky, after Antennae Jimmy Simmons from the Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica.

[quote]I simply wanted to get away from

the restrictions,

the Rockabilly

/ Psychobilly

/ Garage Punk genre

limitations and all that crap[/quote]

But I guess the main reason for the change in sound was that I simply wanted to get away from the restrictions, the Rockabilly / Psychobilly / Garage Punk genre limitations and all that crap, you know.

I even went to change our band logo, which in retrospect was a bad idea and made us lose some of our home base, but that’s the way I felt back then.

This was some time around 1990 when I also started to record some of the darker solo stuff. The influence of Punk and Garage were not so dominant on Billion Sellers, though Country was still a big influence on that album.

I had also begun to develop some weird / psychotic mindgame Dada view of Rockabilly / Country that I desperately wanted to bring into the band’s output, like treating my own songs like cover versions e.g. ‘Baby Doll’ and putting it right at the beginning of the album instead of the end like everybody else would have done.

Bottom line, the guys at the record company freaked out!

In a wise foreshadowing of their reaction I hadn’t told them about this little maneuver of mine. Chuckles!!

On the other hand a lot of the old fans disapproved as well and I still remember hardcore fans telling me that they never got past the first song and hence never got a chance to listen to real catchy stuff like ‘Highway To Your Soul’ or ‘Buzzsaw Baby of the Hollywood Hills’ thinking I’d gone freaky fucking out of my head!

Well, what was it what they say about genre limitations?

Mainstream Death Country (1993) the follow-up to Billion Sellers was pretty much in the same vein like its predecessor.  Same line-up and everything, but the production was even slicker and more professional than Billion Sellers.

Songs were even further removed from the standard Garage / Trashabilly the band was known for. There are more ballads and some pretty intricate guitar parts. The guitar picker was a big fan of Ry Cooder, Marc Ribot, Lowell George and Richard Thompson and you can hear that on some of the tracks.

This was supposed to come out as Raymen album number five, but the label that had released Billion Sellers turned it down, probably still shaking in their boots from the ‘Baby Doll experience’ and subsequently the band split up. Or should I say, just another line up done gone.

So here I am without a band, without a record deal but a pretty cool album under the belt.

When I secured the label deal with One Million Dollar Recs. about 1 ½ years after the recordings, they suggested that this should come out as a Hank Ray solo album because there was no band any more, and because of the different sound of the album. And I thought, “Yeah, f*** ‘em all, let’s do this!”

Well, next there’s Music to Lynch Your Lover By (1997).
Again a completely new line up and new crazy ideas! In short, this was intended as a statement in Anti-Soul a la ‘White Light / White Heat’.

Bleak, off-the-wall white noise attacks on traditional country, blues and rockabilly.
A syringe of mercury injected into your spinal chords.

I mixed all those layers of noise guitars upfront so the lead vocals are a little drowned-out on some songs, but it was meant to be that way.

Here’s in short the conversation between my then-wife and me when she heard the final mixes of the album for the first time. It illustrates most people’s reaction to the album pretty well, that’s why I mention it here:

She says: “What is this?”
Me says: “Baby, that’s the Dada / John Heartfield deconstruction of the average good mix. It’s an art statement”
She says: “Uh-huh!?!?”

I’ve been thinking about remixing the album for more customer friendliness, but it looks like the original tapes have suffered some irreparable damages.

Looks like the good ole Juju Gods of Dada have their dirty little goofer dust fingers in this. Well, we’ve tried to salvage as much as possible though. All we gotta do is sit down one day and do some mixing.

Sinister FUntime
Lucifer’s Right Hand Men (1999) has the same line-up as ‘Music’ but the material is more sort of ‘Goth Americana – Glam Reverb’ and the overall mix of the songs is way more balanced in a traditional way contrary to the ‘buried vocal mixes’ of ‘Music’.

I love the version of John Cale’s ‘Buffalo Ballet’. During live shows he would occasionally introduce the song as a ‘European vision of the Old West’ which is a great phrase. Sums up my Euro-American upbringing pretty well.

Hollywood Hell (2000) is possibly the most straightforward album so far. Very pop-orientated ballads all over the place. Lots of backing vocals and organ. Especially love the string parts. You know, it’s for The King.
Countricide (2000) is very special to me. Basic core of the album are the six songs – ‘Ghost of Your Love’, ‘The House I Live in’, ’Helldorado’, ‘Lover’s Lament’, ‘Lord, the Ground Is Cold as Clay’ and ‘Sleep, Haunted Heart’ – recorded way back in 1995. I put those together with some tracks I had recorded in previous years like ‘Death Letter’, ‘Heaven Sent’, ‘Rubber Room’.

So here we are – just me and the engineer in a real big studio out in the beautiful countryside working on some strange ideas. Material is pretty much anti–groove. It has more a kind of ‘floating’ sound to it. I had something like a Goth Country version of John Cale’s ‘Music for a New Society’ somewhere in the back of my mind. I loved his idea of an arranger record.
There’s tons of reverb, like the ‘Streets of Laredo’ version in the ‘Three Godfathers’.

[quote]recorded the summer

my marriage finally went down

the drain, and even the

substances couldn’t kill the pains[/quote]

‘Ballads from the Badlands of Hearts’ is Hank Sr. stripped down to acoustic guitar and vocal with stand-up bass and pump organ. Maybe the closest to singer/songwriter I’ve ever done. Very scarce though not as Nico-ish as ‘Countricide’.

This album was recorded the summer my marriage finally went down the drain, and even the substances couldn’t kill the pains any more.

So if you dig Nico’s ‘Marble Index’ on a hot summer’s day – just like good old Lester Bangs – this one’s for you.

Barbeque of Souls is homage to my 70’s Glam / Punk heroes John Cale / David Bowie / Iggy Pop / Lou Reed. Arrangements are a la modern ‘Sally Can’t Dance’.

Upcoming album Sinister Funtime is a trip back to the roots of Desert Drive and Trashcan. Very basic. A 4 piece band, and that’s it. No backing vocals, nothing. Recorded in three days with a few overdubs added later.

Death’s Black Train EP is mainly composed of ‘Sinister’ outtakes dating from the same sessions.

Not enough for ya?! Seriously? Hank Ray‘s mammoth fat-chewing session with Col. Jon Burrows continues next week.


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