60's & 70's (and before)
Where it began
Ray Russell was born on the 4th April 1947, Islington, North London, England. He began his musical adventure at about twelve years old with a ukulele then a Spanish-style acoustic, followed by a Hofner President with a DeArmond pickup and an add-on tremolo arm. This gave way to a Hofner Verithin, teamed with a Selmer Truvoice amplifier. Early musical influences were not particularly surprising.
“At school. It was The Shadows and Duane Eddy etc. My guitar teacher was keen on the jazz guitarists of the day so I started learning some standards and got interested in chord changes and more harmonic music, but although it took me to a different place. I still liked the music that was backbeat orientated. There was also blues of course. It was like being showered in emotions.” -Ray Russell
He first came to the notice of the public in the 1950s when, aged 12, with his first band, the imaginatively titled George Bean and the Runners, Ray appeared on stage at the Odeon, Holloway Road during a Saturday morning picture show. He also made an early television appearance, on the famous (or infamous) Carroll Levis TV talent show where he sang Paul Anka’s ‘I Love You Baby’. He came second, but, as a result of the way he bashed out the Anka tune on his child-size guitar, his confidence was given a huge boost.; a boost that enabled him to sum up the courage to sit-in with a band in a Soho club, an event which encouraged him to start his own band at school with his friend George Bean. The band was inevitably called ‘George Bean and the Runners’, which is perhaps not the most memorable of names for a band, but, with Ray playing his shiny Burns Vista-Sonic, the music was good, very good.
So good, that by the late 1950s, with hours and hours of practice under his belt, he auditioned for the superb Eric Delaney Big Band. At the audition, due to getting his shoe nailed to the floor (don’t ask), he never got to play, which is something we can now be grateful for because, in 1963 aged just 15, he became the guitarist with the John Barry Seven. Click to view video of Ray talking about his John Barry Seven audition.
Russell's introduction to the John Barry Seven came when he read in the music press that the band's longtime lead guitarist, Vic Flick
(who was known for the famous guitar twangs in the James Bond theme), was leaving the group.
He auditioned on a day off from his regular job and won the spot by pretending that he could read music; he learned musical notation as a member of the band after establishing his virtuosity.
"Now, this was solo, no one else was playing with me. The first music title was The James Bond Theme. I knew it well by now. I played it and pretended to look at the music. I played it through, and Bob said, ‘This guy’s good! Let’s call John and tell him…’ I got home and told my folks who were worried, to say the least, that I was on tour in two days and had to go to rehearsals. They were so good about it. Luckily. the guys were all older and were pros at touring. In a month I grew up!" - Ray Russell
Russell's talent was incontestable. He made a the perfect successor to Flick. With Barry, Ray played on his first two James Bond Film's Thunderball in 1965 and then, You Only Live Twice, in 1967.
He recalls what it was like to be a guitarist in the John Barry Orchestra :- "I was grateful to be working with the amazingly talented musicians but as an electric guitarist we were like the naughty kids sitting in the back. Well maybe we were in a way. The classic trained musicians were masters of following set pieces to precision and us guitarist liked experimenting. I remember the others used to talk about me as the gutarists with the gimmicks which really was just me using a foot pedal. I was one of the first guitarist to use one then, a lot of us made them ourselves before that we would stand in a circle like some kind or religious cult preforming a ritual with a pencil, you know the ones with the metal cap to hold the rubber, we'd move them up and down to create the flanging, until someone discovers how to put it in a pedal." -Ray Russell
Work through the 60's
He quickly became familiar within the professional music world continuing to play with John Barry he also played with Andy Williams on 1963's Days of Wine and Roses , and Phil Spector with The Ronnets in 1965, Then by 1967 he was playing in the legendary Graham Bond Organisation on tour with The soft machine, Jimi Hendrix experience, The Who, Pink Floyd and others.
In 1967 Ray spent a year with Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames, replacing John McLaughlin.
“This is a story that was a chance in a million. I’d really just started playing sessions. One evening I was booked to do a session at Lansdowne studios in Notting Hill Gate. When I walked into the studio, there were two other guitar players - John Mclaughlin and Jimmy Page. We were waiting for the session to start - I still can’t remember who it was for - but the three of us were sitting round and Jimmy says ‘After this, I’m not doing any more sessions. I’m starting a band, a real heavy rock band!’ John says ‘Yeah, well, I’m going to New York to join Miles [Davis]”. Then John says to me ‘That leaves the guitar chair free with Georgie, would you like to do it?’ So of course, I said ‘Yes!’” - Ray Russell
“I had been touring with Mr Stevens for about two months. We were on the Scandinavian leg of our tour, Helsinki, I think. On the tour, Jimi was playing as a support to Cat and the Walker Brothers. How is that for weird? Of course, he blew everyone away, he was brilliant. Later that night I heard knocking on my hotel room window which was of course on the ground floor. It was Jimi, still dressed in his stage gear. I let him in - he had lost the front door key to the hotel, and as it was a real small out-of-town place, there was no one to let him in. We talked for a while, I made him a cup of tea and we spoke about life really, not so much about music, just things in general. He played my guitar, we talked about the jazz players he listened to and then he went to hit the sack as we had an early flight, and it was already 3.30 a.m.”
Ray then landed a position touring with Cat Stevens and The Walker Brother accompanied by the Jimi Hendrix Experience. A time Ray recalls with great fondness:
In 1968, at the tender age of 21, Ray recorded his first solo album, Turn Circle, All bar two of the tracks were Russell compositions, including the three-piece suite, 'A Day in the Working Life of a Slave of Lower Egypt', an early indication of Ray’s penchant for quirky titles.
“I have to thank David Howells, who wanted to start a jazz label (yes, you heard right!) CBS Realm Jazz for the new talent that was around then. He asked me at a gig, and I was very excited. We recorded in CBS in Bond Street on a four-track engineered by Mike Ross. The late Roy Fry on piano and the late Ron Mathewson on double bass, with Alan Rushton on drums. Mostly one take, that was the preferred way then. With David I went on to form a band known as Rock Workshop. we had a low chart entry, and it would have gone very well but Blood Sweat and Tears took over, so the Brits got laid to rest. They were great and they had the full weight of the machine with them.” - Ray Russell
Following on from the successes through 60's he ended the decade by playing on David Bowies album Space Oddity and as a new decade began; Ray Russell was a recognisable name in the music scene.
The late 60's had Ray in such high demand which continued into the 70's. In 1970 Michael Gibbs released his album Michael Gibbs under Dream Records with Ray Russell playing a twelve string guitar.
Also in 1970 arose the 11-man collective, Rock Workshop, formed the group was Ray with fellow musicians Alan Greed, Alan Rushton, Alex Harvey, Bob Downes, Brian Miller, Bud Parks, Daryl Runswick, Derek Wadsworth, Harry Beckett and Robin Jones; together they released two albums and had a huge UK hit with ‘Primrose Hill’.
The ’Full Circle’ line-up had recorded Dragon Hill for the same label in 1969, adding a brass section on some numbers. Following a live album in 1971, Ray reshaped the band retaining Rushton on drums with Daryl Runswick on bass and the addition of trumpet, trombone and sax for Rites and Rituals, an album produced by Fritz Fryer, formerly of the Four Pennies and at that point embarking on what would be a successful career in production. All these albums showed Ray melding jazz and rock guitar. Was there a Hendrix influence?
In 1971, after playing on Gilbert O'Sullivan's debut album 'Himself' recorded at Audio International Studios, London, Ray joined the ground-breaking UK band Nucleus (one of the very first jazz/rock fusion groups), at a live concert in Bremen; however, his short tenure with the band was completely unknown until 32 years later when the album Live in Bremen was released in 2003.
In 1973 Ray was a member of the prog rock band Mouse, which released an album entitled Lady Killer on the Sovereign label.
He had also been arranging and recording with Andy Mackay on his album 'Resolving Contradictions' and was called back to recording as guitarist on Bond Film, 'Live and Let Die', with musical direction from George Martin and Beatles member Paul McCartney replacing John Barry. However a year later John Barry was back in Bond for 'The Man with the Golden Gun', with Ray back in as lead guitarist. Between the films Ray collaborated with Simon May on 'Smile', the musical, Gary Window and Irish Celtic Rock band 'Horslips', then in 1975 he teamed with Barbados born Harry Beckett for a number of superb Latin and Caribbean jazz from Harry's Transcendent Trumpeting fused with the funky guitar of Ray Russell for the album Joy Unlimited.
It was around this time that the band Chopyn formed its members consisting of Denny McCaffrey (vocals), Simon Colclough (vocals), Clyde McMullen (bass, vocals), Ann Odell (keyboards, vocals), Simon Phillips (drums) and Ray Russell who not only displayed his usual guitar talents but also charmed us with vocals and his skills in sitar. Together the art-rock group released the album Grand Slam on Jet Records in 1975.
1976 brought great opportunities for Ray as he became the guitarist and musical arranger along with past collaborator Andy Mackay for the fictional Group led by the Little Ladies (Rula Lenska, Charlotte Cornwell and Julie Covington) on the Musical TV drama, Rock Follies. The storyline followed the ups and downs of a fictional female rock band, as they struggled for recognition and success. The series featured Tim Curry, Emlyn Price, Beth Porter, Sue Jones-Davies, Bob Hoskins, Stephen Moore, Derek Thompson, Denis Lawson and Little Nell among others. The series was made on a small low budget for Thames Television, with a style inspired by fringe theatre. The series was a success and won three BAFTA Awards, and the soundtrack album reached No. 1 in the UK chart earning the group two Golden Discs.
With the great success of the Rock Follies came more opportunities to express his musical talents; therefore, in 1967 Ray Russell, Simon Philips and Julie Covington were enlisted by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice to record the promotional concept album for the musical Evita. The album was recorded during the spring at Olympic Studios in London, with Webber and Rice performing along with the orchestra as well as other cast members such as Leading band Paul Jones, Tenor C.T Wilkinson, and chart topping musician Tony Christie. The Album was later released in the United Kingdom on 19 November 1976 but a few changes were made before the stage performance. One of which was a change in leading lady as despite Webber and Rice's desire to have Julie Covington as leading lady, she chose to reprise the role. Producer Hal Prince suggested to use a lesser known actress and so Elaine Paige was offered the part for which she did great justice.
Between 77-79 Ray retuned to play on James Bond films A Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker. During this period he work as a session musician boomed working on over 36 albums including producing, composing and arranging as a session musician with Hudson Ford , Grace Kennedy, Andy Mackay, Frank Miller, George Martin, LuLu and many more.
"A.I.R studios that George Martin owned with Chrysalis was the busiest studio in the heart of London. I must have spent half of every year there in the late seventies and Eighties. This is a memorable pic as I was mixing my album “Ready or not” and overdubbing on a jingle with Air Edel. What a week. When studios were working twentyfour hours. This can never happen again but what I learnt in this era was invaluable and was a life changing experience." -Ray Russell
Part of Rays session work also included recording under the label CBS with Art Garfunkel on an arrangement by Mike Batt for the film 'Watership Down'. The image shows Ray playing guitar and Tom Nicholl on drums for the video shoot of Bright Eyes at Trident studios.
It was in 79 that Ray become closely acquainted with Beatles member George Harrison. Introduced through percussionist Ray Cooper, he began working on sessions for George Harrison’s company Hand Made Films, with Mike Moran. Ray put his expert guitar playing skills onto the soundtrack of the Monty Python & HandMade Film, Life of Brian. George was renowned for his close relationship with his musicians and Ray was no exception to Harrison Hospitality. With HandMade Films, he played on Life of Brian, Time Bandits, Water and A Fish Called Wanda. It was during the filming of Water, that he received a Gift from George in the form of a very special Fretless Guitar.