Singer-songwriter Boo Ray talks about his collaboration with musician Sean Brock for the new addition to his 7-inch vinyl series.
Country-rocker Boo Ray takes his artistic and eccentric musical styles to the next level with his collaboration series called Boocoo Amigos, a collection of 7-inch vinyl records.
Following his collaboration with Americana singer Lilly Winwood (daughter of Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Steve Winwood) for “Hard to Tell” and a cover of the Kenny Rogers-Dolly Parton classic “Islands in the Stream,” Ray has teamed up with accomplished chef and musician Sean Brock.
The two have Southern roots in common: Originally from rural southwest Virginia, Brock is the 2010 James Beard Award winner for Best Southeast Chef and the executive chef of Husk (Greenville, South Carolina; Nashville; Savannah, Georgia). Ray grew up in the mountains of western North Carolina a couple hours west of Asheville. After bonding over tattoos and a love of food, Ray enlisted Brock for two new original tracks — “Soul Food Cookin’” and “Saint Misbehavin’” — that play off both passions and are rooted in pure traditional country.
Recently, we chatted with Ray about his music and the 7-inch vinyl series.
Cowboys & Indians: Your 7-inch series is so original and different from what other artist are doing with their music today. What gave you the idea?
Boo Ray: Thanks, glad you dig it and think it’s cool. My relationship with Kindercore Vinyl in Athens, Georgia, definitely inspired and informed this collaboration series. They’re completely authentic — obsessed vinyl experts making great-sounding records. Also it’s been a cool chance to get outside of my own sound too, you know. The basic idea is we write and record an original A-side and cover something cool on the B-side. It’s been a total blast working with friends on this series. Sean Brock and I talked about covering a ZZ Top tune and wound up writing two original songs for our 7-inch vinyl. Lilly Winwood and I covered “Islands in the Stream” on the B-side and wrote “Hard to Tell” to accompany it. The Christmas single “All Strung Out Like Christmas Lights” with Elizabeth Cook had a Pete Lyman remastered version of “I Got the Jug,” off the Sea of Lights album, on the B-side. We’ve got a couple of more exciting collaborations in the works and on the way for the series, too.
C&I: What do you hope fans will take away from your new 7-inch recordings?
Boo Ray: Working with Sean has been such a blast. We’ve played a bunch of cool old guitars and amps, played a bunch of Nick Greers, Greer amps and pedals. We’ve eaten sock sausage, ramps, rice peas, pine-resin-cooked logging-camp potatoes. We saw Songhoy Blues live; talked about Appalachia, regional slang, communication skills, getting sober, the central nervous system, Junior Kimbro, hill-country blues, the Georgia sound, Jerry Reed, and the effect of different frequencies on the human mind/body/spirit.
I hope that the takeaway is joyous and the songs inspire people to spin vinyl, cook in skillets, read books, grow a garden, fix up an old car, help someone, be a good friend, endlessly patch an old denim garment, and transform tragedy into compassion.
Sean and I wrote “Saint Misbehavin’” as a rebellious ode to our tattooist buddy Mitchell Atkinson. During the writing process we discovered the patron saint of tattoos, St. Theresa from 1990s war-torn Kosovo. She fled to a monastery and was shunned by the nuns because she was tattooed, until it was discovered that Theresa was able to smuggle food, hanging from her untold piercings, across enemy lines to the starving monastery. She became a hero. In the choruses we sing “Saint Misbehavin’ sweet Theresa heaven’s tattooed dove”; in the next breath we bemoan our buddy’s death and the Coal Company’s destruction of Appalachia, singin’ “I curse the foolish ways that take my friends before they’re old.” It’s meant as a celebration and a mournful cry, like a spiritual.
After writing the first song and spending some more time pickin’ guitars together, we aimed at a real brash “Alabama Wildman” type riff, with a hill-country blues beat and that wound up “Soul Food Cookin’” — embracing some favorite things like bulldogs of any kind, but especially Frenchies, cooking in skillets, loud guitars, cathead biscuits, collard greens, Carolina Gold rice, and more loud guitars.
C&I: How did you gather everyone for the project?
Boo Ray: Last year after we toured the West Coast and the eastern seaboard we came back to Nashville and recorded a new full-length album with my band at Welcome to 1979 Studio with producer Noah Shain. We’d developed a sound together and thought it’d be cool to collaborate with some other artists like Levon Helm and then did. [My] longtime friend and producer Alex Gilson at Gold Cassette Studio recorded the collaborations; Sol Littlefield and Noah Shain did the mixing. Pete Lyman masters, Price Harrison does photography and art direction, and Kindercore Vinyl manufactures. So the actual gathering of everyone was years’ worth of writing, performing, recording, and production relationships that I brought my collaborating partners into. It’s ongoing and turning into more collaborations with [my] favorite artists. We’re seeing where it goes.
C&I: What was the writing and recording process like?
Boo Ray: It’s been a continuously developing dialogue and hang over the last year. Sean’s an excellent communicator, real cool guitar player, an expert in multiple fields of information, and he’s funny as hell. We both think Billy Gibbons is the coolest and Southern Culture on the Skids is the best party band of all time. Sean’s got a highly developed creative process from his culinary work and it totally translates.
C&I: What were some inspirations for the sound of this vinyl?
Boo Ray: We both wanted to do a Jerry Reed type of number from the get-go and thought that kind of levity would be a cool vehicle to flip the script on the story of Mitchell [Atkinson’s] tragedy. [“It was just a real natural thing for us to write a song about our friend and legendary tattooist who died in a tragic fiery hot-rod crash,” Ray told Tattoo.com. “It’s a Southern gothic rock & roll ode to Mitchell celebrating his spirit and bemoaning his untimely passing.”] You know, find the blessing and transform the pain to compassion, healing, and understanding. Feeling a little bit accomplished and inspired once we got that first song under our belt, I think we dug in deeper [and] asked ourselves, “OK, what’s really goin’ on? What’s the real essence of the sound of the two of us and what type of guitar work do we really want to do?”
C&I: Do you have any memorable stories along the way of taking the songs from concept to actual release?
Boo Ray: Not long after we started working on the first song, we were standing in a parking lot talking about some of the different stuff we get a kick out of. Sean was talking about the hat collaboration he did with Billy Reid and I mentioned the shirt collaboration I’m doing with H Bar C Ranchwear. We were poking fun at each other about it and Sean said, “hell, you’ll be a damned western wear king pin.” I got so tickled about it I couldn’t stop laughing. It was real cool when Olathe Boot Company sent Sean and I a pair of boots after they ate at Husk in Nashville, too.
C&I: You and Sean Brock developed a fast friendship over your mutual love of food and tattoos. Do you have a favorite tattoo and/or food?
Boo Ray: I still like the big black and gray arm piece Freddy Negrete tattooed on me when I was a kid, and I’m crazy about Geechie Boy Grits.
C&I: The recordings with Sean follow up your collaboration with Lilly Winwood. How are the results different?
Boo Ray: Cool question. Sean and I had a story we were compelled to tell and picked that Jerry Reed-style scenario to do it with. Along the way of writing that first song we began to discover other organic guitar tendencies we had in common and Sean steered me into some hill-country blues territory where we might have found something close to our collective sonic center of gravity.
Lilly and I wanted to cover “Islands” and thought it’d be cool to put it in a Muscle Shoals type context. Our “Islands” recording inspired me to flip the script on a drunken hillbilly waltz I’d been writing for Kacey Musgraves and put it on a Southern R&B backbeat, which became “Hard to Tell.” I think Lilly sounds amazing singing that melody and it’s a cool snapshot of her as an artist.
C&I: What’s your writing process like? Do you start with the lyrics or the music first?
Boo Ray: Both of those scenarios are useful to me. Pairing the right lyric and melody is the end goal. Sometimes I start with a guitar riff and fit the meter and phonetic of the lyric to the riff. Other times I’ve got a combination of words that I build a musical structure around.
C&I: What are some other artists that have inspired you?
Boo Ray: We’ve talked about a few of ’em. Dwight Yoakam’s important to me as a songwriter and performer, too. Eddie Rabbitt, Don Williams, Glen Campbell, JJ Cale, the red-dirt scene, the Georgia sound, Muscle Shoals, Memphis’ Sun Studio, and the songs and records from that Laurel Canyon scene continue to inspire me.
C&I: What can we expect in terms of touring?
Boo Ray: Like I mentioned, working with Sean’s been an ongoing dialogue and I think after August he’s going to spend some time with me and the band and play some shows with us. I think we’re going to do some shows in Charleston and Nashville for starters. At some point it’d be cool to do a night of all the collaborations at a venue.
C&I: What’s something your fans might not know about you?
Boo Ray: I seldom mention that I’m sober. If I’m at the honky-tonk and someone offers me a drink I say “No thanks, I’ve had enough, but I’ll drink a [Coke] with you, please.”
For more information on Boo Ray and to order his new 7-inch series, visit his website. Photography: courtesy Sideways Media Team.