Saturday, December 7, 2013

The Complete James Ray: 27 Tracks; If You Gotta Make A Fool of Somebody (in Itty Bitty Pieces), then Put Me in Your Diary--and Welcome to the Floor. While you're at it, Do the Monkey! (finalized 6/18)

Seeing that the various Otis Blackwell and "5" Royales posts, here, have proved popular, here's some more R&B, albeit of a more eccentric species.

Contained HEREIN ( download) are 21 tracks that I once thought comprised the recorded output of James Ray, elfin soul singer, between 1962 and 1964. He died in '64, as this skeletal Wikipedia article relates. After this post first went live in December 2013, some kind folks stepped forward and let me know that I was shy several tracks. Just imagine! It took a few years to track these tracks down in good sound quality, and as summer 2018 rears its ugly head, I have the pleasure of sealing the deal on James Ray.

HERE is a smaller mp3 file of all 27 songs (the top link is for FLAC versions--see below.) The formerly missing tracks: JR's version of the standard "(I'm Afraid) The Masquerade is Over," which shared a single with the far superior "One By One," escaped my notice 'til now. 

How could I forget the '63 dance floor filler "Do the Monkey," a songwriting collaboration of Bobby Darin and Rudy Clark? Well, I did. 

As well, I was unaware of his first single, from 1959, as "Little Jimmy Ray," which consists of the  moody minor-keyed "You Need to Fall in Love," coupled with the more traditionally soulful "Make Her Mine." These two tracks were released on the spell-check-maddening Galliant Records and are rare as all heck. 

And there's more... a 1962 single that couples the non-LP track "Always" (the Irving Berlin standard done up in gospel style, complete with an unusually tasteful and restrained choir) and George Harrison's fave, "Got My Mind Set on You." I believe that this is a wholly different take of the song from the album track. The banjos get a little more, shall we say, aggressive on this 45 version. 

I truly believe this represents everything James Ray recorded, barring unissued material that may have been destroyed or abandoned once the record label perished. The UK reissue label Charly Records issued a compilation LP, Itty Bitty Pieces, in 1983, which contains most of the singles, selected Caprice LP tracks, and three unissued pieces which are superb and more "normal" soul/R&B performances.

Ray had a great voice--smoky, expressive, and more than a little indebted to another Ray (Charles). His performances are commanding and unusual.

Producer Hutch Davies fashioned some zany arrangements to couch Ray's unique voice, abetted by several original tunes composed by cult soul figure Rudy Clark. There's something sinister-sounding about many of these recordings. Perhaps it was substandard studio technology. And the oddball arrangements of Hutch Davies contribute mightily to the strange effect. I give him credit for building an atypical soundscape for a rhythm and blues singer. The instrumentation and mood harks back to pre-rock pop, but with an indescribable edge. 

Some R&B/soul purists can't stand the weird backdrops on several tunes, but I love them, and think that their off-ness is an asset. From the tuba-harmonica duet on the waltz-time "If You Gotta Make A Fool of Somebody" to the cartoon-Dixieland of "St. James Infirmary," you never know what's gonna end up in the musical stewpot.

Ray did his share of good, solid straight-ahead soul numbers towards the end of his too-brief career. Tunes such as "One By One," "We Got a Thing Goin' On," "On That Day" and "I'm Not Guilty" are top-drawer R'n'B-soul. The sub-par sax solo on "Not Guilty" is yet another unexpected sonic delight in the Ray-ology. 

Ray's songs were much-covered by the rock bands that came exploding out of England in the early 1960s. "If You Gotta Make A Fool of Somebody" and "Itty Bitty Pieces" have many renditions in the UK British Beat catalog. (The Rockin' Berries' rendition of the latter song is among the most cringe-inducing, unbearable discs of the British beat era, BTW.) Maxine Brown, US soul-stress, did a nice version of "Fool" in 1967.

Nothing much is known about Ray, but the oft-weird intensity of the recordings speak for themselves. I love his languid, Charles-inspired take on Hoagy Carmichael's "Lazy Bones," and the Rudy Clark-penned modern morality tale "The Old Man and The Mule." Those two tracks show Ray at his vocal peak.

This first download link leads to a large file... I opted to save the 21 original songs as FLAC files. Please don't give me any flack about this. If you're using iTunes, just convert the files to AACs or MP3s, and you'll get a smaller (but probably lossy) version handy for your iPod, smart phone, or dumb camel.

Five years later, I think I've finally closed the book on James Ray. His voice, songs and the weirdness of his discography still fascinates me. I hope it do you, too.

PS: To make the best sense of these recordings, here's...


(as Little Jimmy Ray)
You Need to Fall in Love/Make Her Mine (Galliant 1001, 9/59)

If You Gotta Make a Fool of Somebody/It's Been a Drag (Caprice 110, 10/61)

Itty Bitty Pieces/You Remember the Face (Caprice 114, 3/62)
A Miracle/Things Are Gonna Be Different (Caprice 117, 6/62)
Always/I've Got My Mind Set on You* (Dynamic Sound 503, 12/62)

Marie/The Old Man and the Mule (Congress 109, 2/63)
Do the Monkey/Put Me in Your Diary (Congress CG-201, 9/63)
(I'm Afraid) The Masquerade is Over/One By One (Congress CG-203, 11/63)

We Got a Thing Goin' On/On That Day (Congress CG 218, 7/64)

Extended Play 45:
The Old Man and the Mule/Lazy Bones/Come Rain or Come Shine/St. James Infirmary
(Caprice EP 1002, 7/62; promotional tool to exploit the full length LP)

12" LP Album:
James Ray (Caprice LP 1002, 7/62)
The Old Man and the Mule; Lazy Bones; I've Got My Mind Set on You, Pts. 1 & 2; St. James' Infirmary; Come Rain or Come Shine; If You Gotta Make a Fool of Somebody
Without a Song; Teach Me Tonight; A Miracle; It's Been a Drag; Welcome to the Floor; Itty Bitty Pieces
(tracks in italics were previously issued on 45)

Itty Bitty Pieces (Charly R&B CRB 1065, 1983)
contains the unissued tracks:
(I'm Not) Guilty; One By One; I'm Gonna Keep on Trying plus various singles and LP tracks from 1961-1964

* this is a different and shorter take than the one found on the Caprice LP; apparently there was a plan to issue "Got My Mind Set On You" as a two-sided disc that was shelved