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Non-Prog Interviews

Ray Bennett

Interviewed by Gary Hill
Interview with Ray Bennett from 2013
MSJ:

Ray, it seems hard to believe, but it’s been over ten years since we last interviewed you. Can you give us a little run down about what you’ve been up to in the last decade?
Yes, been a long time. Thanks for the nice review on the new album by the way. I was living in Manhattan when we last talked. That was when my solo CDs, Whatever Falls and Angels & Ghosts came out. I took a trip to the UK around then and even thought briefly about moving back there. But after a couple of weeks there, I knew I wouldn't. I was, at that point, most definitely a New Yorker. Strange to say, but I actually lived in New York the longest I've ever lived anywhere so far.

Would have been nice to go out and play and promote my CDs but there was no support for that from my record company, Voiceprint in the UK, and I couldn't find any way to make it possible myself. I had no permanent band. But I didn't really expect to. I just wanted to record some music doing whatever the hell I felt like doing, whether it could be reproduced on stage or not. As Whatever Falls was my first solo CD, I wanted it to mean something special, go for a big creative party. And I knew that might result in some studio creations with lots of parts. If I'd have had our keyboard player now in Flash, Rick Daugherty, back then, I might have really tried to put a band together and go through all that. He can deal with figuring out how to make it work live and go to the trouble of programming a keyboard to handle complex things. But guys like him are very hard to find. Even at a high price. 

After my CDs came out, I gigged around New York a bit with some friends - nothing serious, just some fun to get out and play. I produced a CD for a New York jazz rock band called “Tripod,” and I wrote a lot of new stuff (which I'm almost always doing). For a while I was also involved in starting a record and management company specialising in more esoteric music: prog rock, jazz. It got fairly close to becoming a reality, but we eventually dropped the idea. In hindsight it might have been a disaster for us, and our financial backer, as the record industry was about to be almost destroyed by online file sharing and later by YouTube. These days it's anarchy, anything goes. Hard to sell CDs or get royalties with all the online piracy. No one thinks anything is wrong with free downloading and copying. 

Around 2002 or 2003 I got in touch with all the Flash members. That was the time when the Internet was growing and helping people find each other. After some long conversations with Colin Carter, in late 2004, I moved from New York to Oregon where he was living. I had been thinking of leaving New York for some time and LA seemed a good idea at first as I have a daughter there, but I decided to get together with Colin and see if we could do something together again. Another factor was that the original line-up of Flash had been invited to play The Baja Prog Festival in 2005, so we decided to get prepared for that. 

Peter Banks and Mike Hough had seemed enthusiastic about trying a reunion, but over time we found that neither was really serious about it. We tried to get them to do the Baja gig but in the end it was Colin and I who appeared at Baja and played some Flash stuff as a duo - just two guys with guitars and voices - quite a challenge. After that I stayed on in Oregon and we formed “The Bennett Carter Band” and gigged around the west coast quite a lot for about a year and a half. We played a wide variety of material: our own songs, some Flash, some covers, a lot of jamming. It was great fun being in a less structured setting. Something neither of us had done in a long time.

In 2006 I moved to Las Vegas. Living in Oregon just wasn't really for me. However, I stayed in touch with Colin and we talked about carrying on in some fashion, though we had no idea what we would do. About a year or so later, one night I got a call from a bass player friend who sounded a little drunk and he was insistent that we put a new Flash together with new people and pick up where the old band left off. Drunk or sober it sounded like a decent idea. To me and Colin, Flash always seemed like unfinished business and it really seemed like the obvious way to go. From there on it was down to finding the right people and the right material. The recording was done in phases over about three years as new ideas were added and arrangements were refined. For Flash to appear again after decades it had to be good, so we were extra cautious about the whole thing. If that meant re-doing things, or throwing out ideas and starting over, then so be it. And that's exactly the way it happened. I also had to make quite a few trips to the UK during this time. Both my parents died. Obviously the breaks in the album's progress were significant and had an effect, but largely a good one I think. Getting away and coming back with fresh ears is helpful. Rick Daugherty, our keyboard player, came into the picture about half way through the recording process and that really helped a lot to have a regular keyboard player as a part of the permanent line-up. I'd played quite a bit of the keyboard parts in all of the songs, but from there on his contributions were just what we needed, both from a playing standpoint and his ideas and perspective on arrangements. Rick's a combination of great technical skill and good taste. Those two qualities don't often go together. With Mark Pardy on drums, who I'd known since the 90s in NYC, the band started to gel as a live entity. Mark had moved to Vegas not long before me to play with a Broadway show. We also found bass player Wayne Carver here in Vegas, who is a prog rock lover, and he completed the line-up for live performances. 

We played some gigs in 2010 while the CD was still underway. Finishing it was a bit nerve wracking for us all, I think. We actually added two more songs then, even though previously we thought it was done. One was NIN’s “Hurt,” the other “Manhattan Morning,” a reworked track from our 1973 album Out Of Our Hands. To put the new tracks in I edited some chunks out of the existing ones. It often happens that you can lose parts in a long arrangement, a little here and some over there, and not notice. Many times it's an improvement to tighten things up. The way it evolved over time was right I think. It was necessary to create a new identity for Flash. Colin and I have changed in our taste and style. Plus of course Pete Banks and Mike Hough aren't in the band. Flash - Featuring Ray Bennett & Colin Carter shows a more sophisticated, more grown up version of Flash. Now we've done this and established what we are in 2013, I think the next album will come together much quicker. There are already ideas for that in the works.

A long answer to your first question I know, but it has been about ten years!

 

MSJ:

If you weren't involved in music what do you think you'd be doing?

The only careers I ever considered following were being an artist - I went to art college - and being a musician. For a while as a teenager I was not at all sure which way I would go, but music went deeper I think and when the pressure to make up my mind got more serious, when I was about nineteen, music was it. I can only guess at what else I might have done. I'm sure it would have to be something creative and leaning towards the arts.
MSJ:

Did it seem strange working on a Flash album without Peter Banks? I know you guys were recording the disc before he passed away, but how did his death change that experience?

The album was done when Pete died, so that event didn't affect the work. It was about to be released actually and he had heard a couple of tracks somehow. I heard that he liked them. No, it wasn't strange at all, not having him in Flash anymore. We'd had a few years to get used to that idea up to that point. In fact, from the moment Colin and I started working together again it felt just like it always did, even though Pete and Mike weren't around - amazing really. We just picked it up and moved on like it had been yesterday. The fact that there are two of us from the old band makes it feel like Flash to me.

MSJ:

Do you have any favorite memories of Peter?

It was quite a shock to hear that he'd died. When it happened I started thinking about all our experiences together - the good and the bad - quite a lot of both actually. I'd known him since early Yes days, back in '68 when Yes first started. Then there were the Flash years, and several short term projects after that. The last time we were together was in LA about 1982. We were playing a weekly club gig together and hanging out together socially, and getting along quite well. But our relationship had hit many low points over the years. He was difficult to get along with for any length of time, especially when things got complex, or disagreements happened, or generally if the pressure was on. The darker moments are inevitable, but all normal stuff in a long term partnership. There was a streak of impetuousness in him and a desire to get his own way that made a long term working relationship with him impossible.

The better part of him was the music of course. He was at his best in those moments when creativity and working with other people was more important than anything else. The early days of Flash were great, right at the beginning when we were all deliriously happy to be doing what we loved to do, and getting paid to do it. We were getting tight as a band, discovering what we could do, and rehearsing the material for our first live shows and the first album. We made good music together almost every day, and went to the pubs in the evenings. Or we would hang out at our manager’s office drinking his booze, signing contracts and thinking of the future. We were all very thankful for what we had - a really good band with great prospects, and we knew it. Pete was very happy then too, particularly after losing Yes and having a long period after that of doing nothing. Flash meant a lot. Later on while on tour, a memory of Pete stands out. It was at a gig soundcheck somewhere in the US. It was the afternoon in a big empty dark hall - just a couple of stage lights on and people milling around doing their tech stuff. We had done some of the sound check and then we wandered about the place waiting for something to happen. I was standing out in the hall away from the stage and Pete was the only one up there playing by himself - just abstract stuff - a lot of echoey chords and long melodic lines - all fairly quiet, melodic, and beautiful - a stream of musical consciousness without any particular aim. I'd heard him do this kind of thing many times before, but that day it sounded really good. I could be wrong, but it seemed as though this kind of playing was without thought or ego. Pete being totally natural.

One other good memory is when we talked on the phone just after my solo CD came out and I'd sent him a copy. We'd been talking about a Flash reunion, but we hadn't seen each other in years at that point and we were a little wary of each other. He shocked me by saying that he thought my CD was wonderful, a really great piece of work and he loved it. I wasn't expecting that kind of unguarded enthusiasm and lavish praise, considering our rocky history and all the time and distance between us. But it reminded me of one thing we always had in common. A great love and respect for music.

MSJ: What's ahead for you?

More of the same. I like what I do. More music, and keep trying to be better at it.

MSJ:

I know artists hate to have their music pigeonholed or labeled, but how would you describe your music?

I'd prefer not to. If I did start to describe it I'd probably be talking utter rubbish. I really don't work in one particular way. This was another point that Peter and I agreed on. Just play it, don't talk about it. Taken to an extreme of course that won't work at rehearsals! You have to chat while you work, but that's different. Generally, analysing music can be tedious and pompous - reminds me of art school. Art students I knew would try to talk about art in intellectual terms trying to sound knowledgeable and intelligent, and with an assumption that all art can be explained. But most of what we do comes from the heart, not the head, and that's hard to fathom. Mostly it doesn't need to be explained. Did Sgt. Pepper need to come with a description to be understood?

MSJ:

Are there musicians with whom you would like to play in the future?

No one in particular. Neil Young, Paul McCartney, Tom Petty, Sheryl Crow, Sting? All good songwriters, which would be interesting to me. I often hear artists I can imagine working with if their music really grabs me, but it isn't something I think about much.

Actually, having great drummers to work with would make the biggest difference to what I do. People like Vinnie Colaiuta for instance, or Stuart Copeland. I played with Keith Carlock in New York some years ago. You don't have to tell him anything much -a great player. When you play with guys like that who always get it just right and have plenty of chops, energy, and good taste, it makes a band sound perfect. Same goes with bass players. In rock and jazz the rhythm section is the heart and soul of the band.

MSJ: Do you think that illegal downloading of music is a help or hindrance to the careers of musicians?

Illegal downloading - and the everyday copying of CDs - is not helping musicians. We are being ripped off when we should be getting paid for our work. I just spent three years working on a CD. It cost money to make and loads of time. And a group of people were involved along the way, so their time too. On top of that it required all our expertise, which we've spent our lives acquiring. The law allows "fair use,” meaning a copy for your car, or for your wife, but putting large numbers of whole albums on YouTube, or copying CDs for your friends and relatives and maybe a few pals at work, that isn't fair use. Of course many go far beyond that.

It's just simply stealing music, but many people don't consider it wrong because they can get away with it without consequence. If they think of it at all, it might be with the assumption that it's not really hurting anyone and everyone does it, so what's the big deal? But imagine if you started reproducing a patented item and giving it away to people on a website. In any other industry you would have a pack of lawyers down on you in no time. Somehow people don't see music the same way. But the fact is, someone owns it and when you copy it without paying, you are stealing their property. So it comes down to a simple moral choice. Are you OK with doing something wrong if you think you won't get caught? 

This is an evolving situation and highly controversial. Many think that passing music around freely so it can find an audience, has to be good, right? Well it may work to a certain extent with new music, but it's being done with all music. As dysfunctional as the music world is right now I think at some point there may be some kind of a consensus of opinion between artists, record companies, online music sites, and Internet providers, as to what is considered a fair deal and how to implement it. That would have to include a way to securely protect digital copies of music online and to protect a physical CD. Maybe there will never be an airtight solution, but piracy could be seriously discouraged if it was much harder to do. It may take some serious legislation and arm twisting to get there, but it could happen if enough of the right people get involved.

You have to have a wide variety of good new music flowing into the world. It's essential to all our lives. And musicians have to be able to do it full time to do it well. You don't do an Abbey Road, or a Dark Side of the Moon while holding down a full time job at Burger King.

MSJ:

In a related question, how do you feel about fans recording shows and trading them?

We already have a mess of piracy issues with CD sales so it's a bit concerning when you think of how easy it is now to shoot fairly good video and what people might get up to with it. From the audience point of view it's hit and miss what they'll get, and without a proper sound feed from the board it usually doesn't amount to much. But even so, YouTube has loads of concert videos and it does affect the music scene overall. You can sit around at home and look at concert footage from a dozen artists in one night without spending a penny. I would guess that some might be reasonably satisfied with that and it must contribute to a lack of attendance at live events.

MSJ:

If you were to put together your ultimate band (a band you'd like to hear or catch live), who would be in it and why?

First of all, I would have to use some dead people!  I would love to see The Beatles. I missed them back then and they meant a lot to me. They made magic and transformed my life when I was twelve, thirteen. Don't know about "ultimate.” Is there such a thing? I would have liked to see Miles Davis with Jimi Hendrix and a good band. Mitch Mitchell, or Terry Bozzio on drums…maybe Jack Bruce on bass…or me.

MSJ:

If you were in charge of assembling a music festival and wanted it to be the ultimate one from your point of view who would be playing?

I would hate that job. A major headache.

MSJ:

What was the last CD you bought and/or what have you been listening to lately?

No CDs lately. I recently bought two Miles Davis albums on iTunes: Nefertiti and Porgy & Bess. The last single song I bought was an iTunes download of a Jakob Dylan Song (I pay for my downloads!). I was recently listening to a lot of Pandora while in the pool. Joni Mitchell, CSN, Sting, Ella Fitzgerald, Miles, and all the stuff Pandora tags with that. I realised I don't like Pandora much. They kind of drive you crazy trying to match what they think you want. I prefer a random mixture.

MSJ:

Have you read any good books lately?

Reading two excellent books: Pete Townshend's autobiography, which so far is fascinating; and a biography of Winston Churchill. I've read a couple on him before, but this new one called “The Last Lion” by William Manchester and Paul Reid is a superb character portrait, full of detail. I always had a fondness for Churchill. He was a neighbour when I was a kid. Lived a few miles from me in the Kent countryside.

MSJ:

What about the last concert you attended for your enjoyment?

Can't remember. So I guess it wasn't recently! I live in Vegas and I often get free tickets to see shows as my wife works on one. But they aren't rock music. One concert I did see some time ago here was Cheap Trick doing their Sgt. Pepper show. It's was excellent. They covered the entire album with some back-up for the orchestral stuff.  Robin Zander did a great job with all the demanding vocals. Whole thing was fun. I also saw them on Austin City Limits a while ago and it was an amazingly good show. Their new material was really good - much more sophisticated than the hits - a good rocking band.
MSJ: Do you have a musical “guilty pleasure?”

Mmmm. Not sure what that means actually. Something I'd be embarrassed about people knowing?

I like many things, in many genres, and I'm not guilty about any of it really. People might find it surprising that I like Doris Day - a lady with perfect pitch and a nice sound, also Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. I liked The Pet Shop Boys. One of the stupidest names ever, but they have some cool ideas, nice sounds and musical textures. I could probably name a lot of stuff that has nothing at all to do with rock and certainly miles away from prog rock, which I'm supposed to be a part of. I actually never listen to prog much, if at all. I never did. My tastes were always everywhere but that - classical, jazz, blues - all kinds of rock and all over the map.

MSJ:

If you could sit down to dinner with any three people, living or dead, for food and conversation, with whom would you be dining?

William Shakespeare, Winston Churchill, and Ginger Rogers - in her prime - might be an interesting combination. I would love to get Shakespeare to tell me about those missing facts of his life and what he thinks of the world now. Winston would be uncontrollable of course and talk for hours on almost any subject he fancied. I might also get Ginger to teach me to dance. We'd all meet somewhere in the South of France and have dinner on the terrace of a villa overlooking the sea.

MSJ:

What would be on the menu?

It had better be a wide variety of sophisticated stuff with these characters, and endless courses. That would require an army of waiters and a very large well decorated table. A feast of the century. And probably not a vegetarian menu, which is what I mostly eat. That would p*** off Winston, and probably Shakespeare too. I'd probably eat beef, or venison, or whatever turned up for such an occasion. We'd also have the best wines available on the planet…by the truckload.

MSJ:

Are there any closing thoughts you would like to get out there?

How about a shameless bit of self-promotion?

Please visit our Facebook page, Flash-Featuring Ray Bennett & Colin Carter. It's the place to get all current info on what we're up to, so hit “like” and put us on your newsfeed. The page is run by Sherry who gets a lot of interesting stuff up there. As well as current news we sometimes find interesting old photos and odd bits of memorabilia never been seen before from the first Flash era in the 1970s.

MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2013  Volume 5 at lulu.com/strangesound.
 
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