Paul Raymond is celebrating his golden anniversary as a professional musician, and to do so he's got a brand new career retrospective solo album, Rewind 50, another new UFO album (A Conspiracy of Stars), and tours scheduled with both bands leading well into 2015.
After fifty years on the boards, Raymond shows no signs of slowing down, and in fact, he's playing as well as ever, his singing voice has actually gotten stronger as the years have gone passing by, and he's looking great as he begins his second half century.
I caught up with Paul to discuss Rewind 50, and to catch up with the big end to 2014, so we agreed to stick with the new, and to then pick up this conversation again after the first of the year, at which time we'll focus on his long history with the legendary UFO, MSG, and the many legends attached to those classic rock institutions.
I asked Paul for his thoughts on the passing of the great Ian McLagan, who had died just the day previous in Austin, Texas of a massive stroke at 70 years of age. Unbeknownst to me, Mr. Raymond had yet to hear of the death of one of the original Small Faces.
Paul Raymond: "What? Can you run that by me one more time?
"Oh no... I didn't know about this. He's a friend and hero of mine. Oh God...
"Was he still living in Austin? Aw shit. He's one of the greats, he really is...
"Yeah, we used to meet up at various times, and he's always been so nice. He lent me an organ when I didn't have any equipment, just a really great guy.
"He even showed e some of his sounds, like the 'Maggie May' sound - and I've used it ever since! Terrific guy, I'm really, really sad to hear that. What was the cause, it wasn't like Entwistle, was it?
"Ah...at our age...a stroke. That's the same as Malcolm Young, right? He had a couple of strokes, and the singer of Nazareth, Dan (McCafferty) he had a couple of strokes and can't sing anymore. let's change the subject, Tony."
Getting back to happier subjects, I asked Paul how he was able to trim down a fifty year career into just twelve songs for inclusion on Rewind 50:
Paul Raymond: "Haha! It was difficult, because there have been so many songs in so many bands.
"Some of the material I had already recorded, and I kind of built around that, if you know what I mean.
"For instance, the Plastic Penny song from 1968 - I kind of messed around with that over the years, and that was maybe 2 or 3 years ago that I recorded that, for no other purpose than I just thought it was a great song, and nothing to do with UFO.
"So, it was there, and there were a few like that, where I had just idly dipped into the past. It's like you go, 'That's a great tune, I should have done it more like this, or that.
"As you get older and wiser, you look back on stuff that you've done, and wonder, 'Why did I do it like that? I should have done it like this.' So, I had a bit of that, and then I had to make some more tracks very quickly."
Plastic Penny served up some great psychedelic pop at the tail end of the sixties, and Paul Raymond contributed some fantastic organ work and vocals - the organ playing is especially powerful, and I wondered who may have influenced his tones at that point in his career:
Paul Raymond: "That would have to be Vanilla Fudge - they were the only one's doing that at that time, you know?
"I had a couple of guys in that band who were really into Cream, and heavier bands. It was a long time ago. It was Nigel Olsen, who's been with Elton now for donkey's ears, Nigel was playing real heavy and lots.
"Not Jon Lord! Anytime anyone hears a Hammond organ, they look at you, at least a lot of people that I know, they go, 'Oh, it sounds like Jon Lord, brilliant!' and I go, 'Actually, no - he's not one of my favorites.' I like Ian McLagan and Steve Winwood. He never used a Leslie cabinet, it was just straight into a Marshall, and I didn't like that sound at all."
Next up for Paul Raymond after Plastic Penny was a short run iwith blues rockers Chicken Shack, in which he replaced Christine (Perfect) McVie, who was moving on to a solo career before going up wit Fleetwood Mac. I asked what drew the keyboardist towards blues rock after leaving Plastic Penny:
Paul Raymond: "Anything to survive, Tony!
"To survive in this business, you've got to be flexible, and I do believe that I've been that.
"I have to put in an apology for the record, it is very diverse. If you're going to survive, you've got to try everything. Chicken Shack was mixed up, and I learned a lot in this band, a hell of a lot. They were pretty good at what they did. Christine (perfect) McVie came from there, she had just left the band - she was going to have a solo career, and I stepped into that. They kind of molded me. I didn't know much about the blues, I played jazz, but I didn't know how simple things worked, and that's where I learned that was in that band.
"We only did one tour, and it wasn't that successful. We tried to get away from the blues format - we were mates of Fleetwood Mac, they were a blues band as well, and they had started to move into a bit of a different area. We stopped trying to play twelve bar blues - we made a new album trying to do that, and basically the fans didn't accept it, so it all started to come to an end.
"But these things happen, and I just moved over to another very famous group, Savoy Brown, and I did tour a lot with them - constantly from 1971 to 1976."
Speaking of the blues, Raymond takes the bluesy opening number on Rewind 50 back from where his brothers in UFO took it on 2012's Seven Deadly album - it was called 'The Fear' on that record, but Paul has went back to his original lyrics:
Paul Raymond: "I already had the song for it, but Phil (Mogg) said, 'No, I'm going to write my own thing for it,' and I said, 'Fair enough.' I thought people might like to hear that, what I had done with it."
UFO is like the original old boys club of English hard rock, I wondered how Raymond had been drafted into the band all those years ago (1977):
Paul Raymond: "We met up on the road. They were opening for Nazareth, and Savoy Brown had the special guest slot.
"I got to talking to Pete Way after a show, and he said, 'We're looking to make a change, because our keyboard player doesn't double on guitar. We were watching you, and we thought maybe you could fit in with us."
"At that time, UFO seemed to be going places, that kind of music, Kiss was popular, and that kind of music was catching on to a great extent, so I thought, 'Well, maybe I should give this a shot.'
"And so I did - the rest is history, as they say!"
Raymond brought with him to UFO not just some new found versatility for the band, but he also brought another pen to the party, and another writer joined the fold. One of the classic tracks he contributed that he covers on Rewind 50 is 'Looking Out For No. 1' from the band's 1978 Obsession album:
Paul Raymond: "That particular song I had kicking around for a while - I had played it to Kim Simmonds in Savoy Brown, and I thought he'd say, 'Get out of here,' or something, but he said, 'This is really interesting, perhaps we should write a rock opera together,' and I just said, 'Yeah, right...'
"Anyway, we never did, and so like a year down the road, we were stuck for material, and I showed it to Phil Mogg, and he said, 'Yeah, I'll have that!' And so, we came up with that song."
Another UFO classic that I had to ask about is 'Love To Love', on which Raymond plays perhaps his most well known set of changes across the intro of the band's best loved ballad:
Paul Raymond: "Michael (Schenker) had a riff, that's all that was. He said, 'Can you play something on the keyboards that goes against this riff?'
"He was right there in my face with his Flying V, and when I started playing, he said, 'Yes, yes, this is very good! We will keep this!' I just put the piano through a Leslie cabinet for a more ethereal sound. He's very enthusiastic - when he likes something, he'll be all over you like a cheap suit! He's a great guy, and a terrific player, of course.
"Both the guys that I use on my record idolize him. Andy Simmons, and now I've got another cat from Newcastle, Dave Burn, he's playing on there as well. It's like the battle of the Schenker clones. They're both great players in their own right."
Speaking of guitar stylists, Paul Raymond is quite unique, he supplies sturdy rhythms to every project he plays on, and his sound is quite noticeable as he's a left handed player who keeps the strings inverted (strung for a right handed player). By playing upside down, the player gets a sound that is most generally different from that of a player who plays with the instrument strong 'properly.' I asked Paul about his reluctance to buck the normal ways, and to stay with his original approach:
Paul Raymond: "Yeah, like Vinnie Moore, who I work with, he's left handed and he forced himself to play the 'correct' way, and of course there's Paul McCartney. I saw Jimi Hendrix jamming in a club, and he turned a guitar upside down like I do - it was some guy's Stratocaster, and he sat in with a band at the Speakeasy, I thought, 'He's playing like me!'
"He could do it both ways, the correct way and the wrong way, haha!
"It's very much a blues thing - Otis Rush played upside down, Albert King, and another cat I saw on TV, Doyle Bramhall, a great player, I saw him on the Crossroads Festival. So, it does have a merit. I wouldn't change it now, of course, we get a complicated riff that Vinnie Moore might bring in, and you go, 'What? I don't know if I'm going to be able to play that - it'll turn out the wrong way,' but I always find a way in the end. I haven't been defeated yet!"
To celebrate his years spent with the Michael Schenker Group, Raymond chose his classic piano ballad, 'Never Trust A Stranger', and he succeeded in avoiding comparisons with the well loved original arrangement by giving the tune an update that borrows a bit from the old songbook of The Faces - the guitars are transformed from Schenker's hard rock soloing into guitars that would not sound out of place on an album by Rod & The Faces from the early seventies, and the near country rock arrangement wears the tune quite well:
Paul Raymond: "Yeah, it's got a bit of a Faces vibe about it!
"I toured with them back in the day with Savoy Brown in 1971, that's how I got to know Mac (Ian McLagan) so well. So yeah, they've been a big influence, I just love that band. They don't have bands like that anymore. Black Crowes, maybe, but not too many like that anymore. We've got an English band, called The Quireboys, and they're a bit like The Faces, great lead singer!
"It started out with two chords, like The Rolling Stones, and then I thought, 'It needs a modulation.'
"That one just came straight away - it modulated from B to C sharp, and I thought, 'Well, this is pretty cool.'
"It's like Sir Elton John says, if he doesn't get it within ten minutes with one of Bernie's (Taupin) lyrics, he throws it out, which is pretty tough, but this was pretty quick, it just came out like that. The lyrics came very easily, too. I think those are the best ones, aren't they?
"Like 'God Only Knows', Brian Wilson said it came in just a few minutes, and what a great song - a flash of inspiration."
Speaking of reclusive writers, one of the great joys of Rewind 50 is the presence of a before now unpublished song by Terry Reid. Reid turned down the lead singer seat in both Deep Purple and led Zeppelin to pursue his own muse, and 'The Sky And You' comes from an unreleased project that Reid and Raymond had formed back in 1982. Paul does a fantastic job of delivering the tune after all these years, and I had no idea that he had worked with Reid. The arrival of a new Terry Reid song is certainly worth the price of the album:
Paul Raymond: "Oh really, oh terrific!
"There's a story - that's a song that was never published. I had to call Terry, and ask him if I could use it, out of politeness. We were on the phone for like three hours! We hadn't spoken since 1983, and we had some catching up to do. He's still out there, still singing!
"He talks a lot! He's got very, very good stuff. He's a big influence, and I tried to sing that song as close to his version of that number as I could. And I pulled it off, actually!"
One of the best parts of any Paul Raymond solo record is experiencing the keyboardist/guitarist in the role of lead vocalist. His warm, slightly gruff voice is delightfully soulful, and his phrasing is always quite elegant in its delivery:
Paul Raymond: "Yeah, it's a funny thing that's happened!
"My voice has improved as I've gotten older. I don't know why that is, it could be giving up drugs, and smoking, and not going to pubs anymore - taking better care of myself.
"My voice seems to have rejuvenated! It's got a kind of huskiness about it, I like the way it sounds. I did my first singing back in the sixties, and when I hear it now, I have to turn it of, it's like a bad George Harrison!
"I was always singing backups. I'm putting together a band for the road, next month we're going out, and I still have to have a lead singer, although I do the odd track myself. I'm just so busy out there - I've got guitars going, keyboards going, and it's just too much to be lead singer, as well. Ideally, I guess I could get another keyboard player, and stand there and sing and strum an acoustic guitar or something, but I think people want to hear me play, as well."
It can't but help your vocals to stand next to Phil Mogg and hear him ply his trade for so many years, right?
Paul Raymond: "Phil's got a real style of his own, completely original.
"Actually, while you're there, we've got a new UFO album coming out in February, which is the best one for years. We've got a new producer in Chris Tsangarides, who's done a fanstastic job on it. Phil's done a fantastic job, there's a lot of keyboards on it, because the fans have always been moaning about the previous producer we had, he never he'd the keyboards up loud enough.
"Yeah, that's coming out in February, so keep your eyes open for it. Vinnie did good, too - came up with some great ideas. Don't know why suddenly, but I think it was the new producer that energized it. I'll be talking to you soon enough about that (We've tentatively scheduled another interview before the album is out to talk UFO in depth)."
Fifty years into a career, I asked Paul about the changes he's seen in the industry over the last few decades:
Paul Raymond: "Well, there's been a lot of changes, and some not for the good.
"You can make music at home, but now everybody is doing it. I still like the days when there were record companies, and they got out their checkbooks and they wrote a big fat check for you that covered three years of mortgage payments! In that regard, it's changed, and not so much for the better.
"Music is more accessible for young kids, and they can make it themselves, which might be a good thing. I would not want to be starting off now, Tony, let's put it that way.
"I have a daughter who is nineteen, and she's got a great voice, but she doesn't know how to get started. I did some things for her, recorded some demos for her, and she sang terrific, but she doesn't know what to do with it, because there is so much competition.
"Anyway, when we speak again, we can get into the UFO stuff, and delve back into the past. In the meantime, thanks to everyone for the support, and have a Merry Christmas!"