Brian Ray Brings Epiphone to Lollapalooza

Just before he hit the stage with Paul McCartney at Lollapalooza 2015 in Chicago, spoke with our old friend Brian Ray to catch up on what's happening with his band The Bayonets and about his new Epiphone basses he's using on stage with Sir Paul.

For 13 years, Brian Ray has enjoyed what for many musicians would be the dream gig of a lifetime--as well as perhaps the most nerve wracking job you could imagine: playing guitar and bass on stage for Paul McCartney.

The LA native says he started his career with “a transistor radio, an ice cream bucket and a vivid imagination" and cut his teeth in the business as a bandleader for Etta James (a Beatle favorite). And like Mr. McCartney, Brian too fell hard for rock and roll—Bo Diddley, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, and Elvis. Ray is also just as expressive, articulate, and endlessly enthusiastic in interviews. And why wouldn't they. Everyone is obviously having a great time together.

Thanks for speaking with Epiphone again, Brian. How has the tour been? It's been fantastic. And it's a pretty solid bunch of dates. We've been working it and having a blast with the people all over the world. It's the never-ending tour.

And you just got two new Epiphone basses to go with your Jack Casady. Yeah! So I got two EB-3 long scale SG bassists. One in Trans-White and one is Arctic White and they're both really great. I'm using the Trans-White one at Lollapalooza.

Why did you decide to try something a solidbody? Well, I always loved SG style basses and when I learned that Epiphone had a long-scale model with a thicker body I wanted to try one out and it was perfect. Great fundamentals –they really sound bigger down below. In songs like “Hey Jude” which is in “F”, that tonic really sounds great in a big venue.

I've also been using a vintage Epiphone Dwight for two songs in the show. It's a 1962 Dwight that I got with the original amp—one the earlier models with a slightly larger profile. It is really cool. It's got a ferocious P-90 pickup. I use it on “Hi,Hi,Hi” and “Back In the U.S.S.R.”

(*Ed: In the 1960s, The “Dwight” guitar was a custom Coronet made by Epiphone exclusively as the house brand for Sonny Shields Music in St. Louis. Fans include Paul Weller and Steve Marriott of the Small Faces and Humble Pie.)

What's new with your band The Bayonets? You've seen a couple of our videos where we're using some Epiphone guitars. And we have some news that just broke this week that we have signed a deal to release our album, Crash Boom Bang on vinyl. They will be on sale as soon as we get them in October. There might be some new live footage and some deluxe packages. We're looking forward to that. We've had a lot of success and support on Little Steven's Underground Garage and that took us to national radio exposure. We'll include lyrics in the gatefold Lp and custom color vinyl. I'm super excited.

We've also talked about recording some new songs. We'll see how our break in August shapes out.

Paul has added some new songs to the playlist. What is the learning process like when he wants to add a classic? We'll learn a song individually and then we come together and listen a couple more times and then we just play. And from that point forward--once Paul is feeling comfortable and singing his tale off as he's want to do (laughs), then we depart from the record that day to a small degree. We'll always take what Paul feels is essential—a particular fill or solo—and we'll grab that note for note. But mostly we just start playing music.

What I find with these tracks is I'll go back and rediscover parts in harmony that he employed on bass in the recording that I've lost over time in playing the song or I didn't quite pick up on it. It's funny, you're always learning it. It's like a book that continues to reveal itself every time you read it but it's still the same book. It's like someone snuck pages in it.

Another great example is “The End” from Abbey Road. There's that part right before the drum solo that I played chromatically for years and just happened to listen to it again and realized the climb up is in harmony with the piano. So the songs keep revealing themselves.

It's strange. The songs aren't by nature complicated. But the arrangements are phenomenal. And now the songs have all become a part of our lives—all of our DNA if you will—so you don't want to mess with that. But I think Paul is gracious enough to trust each of us a little bit to bring something of our own to it. But really, we're happy just to be playing these songs with the man.